2–5 February 2021


Student Forum

Psychological safety in design: The role of leadership in creating optimal climates for innovation


Presenting Author(s): Leander Kreltszheim, Jennifer Lennon
05 February 2021

Please be aware that multiple presentations will take place during this session commencing at 09:15AM AEDT and share the same zoom link. Check how presentations are clustered in the program spreadsheet when adding the calendar.

It is widely accepted that design and innovation require ‘outside-the-box’ thinking, risk-taking, radical collaboration, the questioning of assumptions and a ‘fail-fast-learn-fast’ mentality (Brown, 2009; Cross, 2011; Dyer et al, 2011). However, while considerable literature currently investigates the elements of an innovation culture, relatively few studies explore the critical role that leaders of design teams play in creating a culture that empowers designers to best exhibit design skills. In particular, there is a gap in research that explores how leaders’ development of psychological safety within design contexts has a crucial impact on the outputs and outcomes of that team.  

Our research argues that (a) psychological safety is vital to developing a thriving design team and (b) leaders of design teams play a pivotal role in developing this safety within their teams. We define psychological safety as when individuals feel secure to take interpersonal risks without fear of negative consequence (Edmondson, 1999) and argue that, for designers, it enables them to pose questions, challenge assumptions and provide feedback without fear of blame, judgement or risk to personal reputation. It also promotes vulnerability and creates a learning culture that views ‘failure’ as a necessary ingredient (Carmeli et al, 2009).  

The authors will leverage the strengths of a multidisciplinary approach to bring a diversity of perspectives and understanding to the complexities of leadership in service design. This presentation draws upon design and positive psychology disciplines to redefine the role of service design leaders to show:  

- how leaders can reinforce (or undermine) team psychological safety
- how psychological safety can impact designers to authentically engage with teammates within the innovation process
- how the freedom to be one’s ‘authentic self’ within a design context can ultimately lead to better design outcomes.

Europe (CET): 4th February 2021 11:15 pm to 12:00 am

US (EST): 4th February 2021 5:15 pm to 6:00 pm

Download Event Paper

Leander Kreltszheim
Leander Kreltszheim
RMIT University

Leander is a social designer whose career focus is using her personal strengths and skills to improve the lives of others. She works as Service Design Advisor for Mission Australia, a national not-for-profit organisation that strives to reduce homelessness and strengthen communities across Australia.

A founder of Melbourne’s ‘Innovation in Not-for-profit’ network and member of Service Design Melbourne’s ‘Design and Ethics’ committee, she is a connector of people, a seer of patterns, an asker of unique questions and likes testing new ideas where she observes gaps and opportunities.

Leander is currently completing her final semester in the Master of Design Futures (RMIT University). Her research interests include exploring the role of intuition within the design process and she recently presented at Design Leadership 2020 on the importance of psychological safety within the design community.

Jennifer Lennon
Jennifer Lennon
The Smith Family

Jennifer Lennon, Organisational Development Advisor, The Smith Family
Jennifer is an experienced learning and organisational development professional who aims to support individuals and organisations thrive using a strengths-based approach. With over 13 years’ experience in the Not-For-Profit sector, Jennifer currently works as an Organisational Development Advisor for The Smith Family, a national children’s charity helping disadvantaged Australian children to get the most out of their education so they can create better futures for themselves.
Jennifer holds a Bachelor of Psychology and has recently completed a Masters of Applied Positive Psychology with First Class Honours from The University of Melbourne. Jennifer’s professional interests include the role of psychological safety and psychological capital on employee engagement and performance, and how organisational environments influence perfectionism in the workplace and its impact on performance and wellbeing.