The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety Books stacked

The 4 Stages of

This book addresses broken human interaction. It decodes the science of silence and explores what it takes to liberate our voices and connect effectively. It’s the first practical, hands-on guide that provides a research-based framework to help leaders transform their organizations into sanctuaries of inclusion and incubators of innovation.

In a world where culture is either created by design, or by default, Clark encourages readers to become cultural architects in their social spheres. This thoughtful and pragmatic guide demonstrates that if you banish fear, install true performance-based accountability, and create a nurturing environment of vulnerability and growth, your teams will perform beyond your expectations, and even beyond theirs.

Amazon Company LogoIndie Bound company logoBarnes & Noble Company logoPorch light Company logo

What is
Psychological Safety?

Psychological safety is a condition in which human beings feel (1) included, (2) safe to learn, (3) safe to contribute, and (4) safe to challenge the status quo – all without fear of being embarrassed, marginalized, or punished in some way. The 4 stages of psychological safety are a universal pattern that reflects the natural progression of human needs in social settings. When teams, organizations, and social units of all kinds progress through the four stages, they create deeply inclusive environments, accelerate learning, increase contribution, and stimulate innovation.

The 4 stages of psychological safety, Stage 1 Icon - Inclusion Safety

Stage 1: Inclusion Safety

Inclusion safety satisfies the basic human need to connect and belong. Whether at work, school, home, or in other social settings, everyone wants to be accepted. In fact, the need to be accepted precedes the need to be heard. When others invite us into their society, we develop a sense of shared identity and a conviction that we matter. Inclusion safety allows us to gain membership within a social unit and interact with its members without fear of rejection, embarrassment, or punishment, boosting confidence, resilience, and independence. But what if you’re deprived of that basic acceptance and validation as a human being? In short, it’s debilitating. It activates the pain centers of the brain. Granting inclusion safety to another person is a moral imperative. Indeed, only the threat of harm can excuse us from this responsibility. When we create inclusion safety for others, regardless of our differences, we acknowledge our common humanity and reject false theories of superiority and arrogant strains of elitism.

The 4 stages of psychological safety, Stage 2 Icon - Learner Safety

Stage 2: Learner Safety

Learner safety satisfies the basic human need to learn and grow. It allows us to feel safe as we engage in all aspects of the learning process—asking questions, giving and receiving feedback, experimenting, and even making mistakes, not if but when we make them. We all bring some level of inhibition and anxiety to the learning process. We all have insecurities. Who hasn’t hesitated to raise their hand to ask a question in a group setting for fear of feeling dumb? Learning is both intellectual and emotional. It’s an interplay of the head and the heart. When we sense learner safety, we’re more willing to be vulnerable, take risks, and develop resilience in the learning process. Conversely, a lack of learner safety triggers the self-censoring instinct, causing us to shut down, retrench and manage personal risk. When we create learner safety for others, we give encouragement to learn in exchange for a willingness to learn.

The 4 stages of psychological safety, Stage 3 Icon - Contributor Safety

Stage 3: Contributor Safety

Contributor safety satisfies the basic human need to contribute and make a difference. When contributor safety is present, we feel safe to contribute as a full member of the team, using our skills and abilities to participate in the value-creation process. We lean into what we’re doing with energy and enthusiasm. We have a natural desire to apply what we’ve learned to make a meaningful contribution. Why do we dislike micromanagers? Because they don’t give us the freedom and discretion to reach our potential. Why do we like empowering bosses? Because they encourage us and draw out our best efforts. The more we contribute, the more confidence and competence we develop. When we create contributor safety for others, we empower them with autonomy, guidance, and encouragement in exchange for effort and results.

The 4 stages of psychological safety, Stage 4 Icon - Challenger Safety

Stage 4: Challenger Safety

Challenger safety satisfies the basic human need to make things better. It’s the support and confidence we need to ask questions such as, “Why do we do it this way?” “What if we tried this?” or “May I suggest a better way?” It allows us to feel safe to challenge the status quo without retaliation or the risk of damaging our personal standing or reputation. Challenger safety provides respect and permission to dissent and disagree when we think something needs to change and it’s time to say so. It allows us to overcome the pressure to conform and gives us a license to innovate and be creative. As the highest level of psychological safety, it matches the increased vulnerability and personal risk associated with challenging the status quo. When we create challenger safety, we give air cover in exchange for candor.

We thrive in environments that respect us and allow us to (1) feel included, (2) feel safe to learn, (3) feel safe to contribute, and (4) feel safe to challenge the status quo. If we can’t do these things, if it’s emotionally expensive, fear shuts us down. We’re not happy and we’re not reaching our potential. But when the environment nurtures psychological safety, there’s an explosion of confidence, engagement, and performance. Ask yourself if you feel included, safe to learn, safe to contribute, and safe to challenge the status quo. Finally, ask yourself if you’re creating an environment where others can do these four things. In the process, look around and see others with respect and fresh amazement, find deeper communion in your relationships, and more happiness and satisfaction in your own life.

Source: Timothy R. Clark
The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety: Defining the Path to Inclusion and Innovation,
(Berrett-Koehler, March 2020)

"Psychological safety is a postmaterialist need, but it is no less a human need than food or shelter."


Who's the book for?

The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety will help answer the following questions for each of these audiences:

Split Icon representing a leader & manager

Leaders & Managers

How do you build a culture of intellectual bravery?

Split Icon representing an employee and Teams

Employees & Teams

How do you develop the lubricating oil of collaboration?

Split Icon representing an Innovator and entrepreneur

Innovators & Entrepeneurs

How do you release creative energy and encourage others to challenge the status quo?

Split Icon representing a coach and sports team player

Coaches & Players

How do you accelerate skill development, eliminate burnout, and increase the joy of competition?

Split Icon representing a teacher and a graduated student

Teachers & Students

How do you separate mistakes from a sense of failure in the learning process?

Split Icon representing a mother & father and child

Parents & Guardians

How do you cultivate and sustain relationships built on love, trust, and accountability?

Split Icon representing a politician and a court judge

Politicians & Public Servants

How do you restore civility to public discourse and dignity to public office?

Split Icon representing two general people


How do you create deeper connections with other human beings while protecting yourself from exploitation?


Did you know...

- This book has 192 pages and will take you 4 hours to read.
- Total word count is 46,443.
- Dimensions
– 8.5" x 5.5"
- Dr. Clark spent over 600 hours writing this book.
- This is Dr. Clark's fifth book.

The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety Book opened face down

More FUN FACTS......

- Psychological safety is the 4th hottest topic in leadership training.
- HR considers the presence of psychological safety to be one of the most important factors in the hiring process.
- A mere 33% of U.S. workers believe their opinions count.
- Increasing psychological safety improves infection control in hospitals.
- Warren Bennis and Edgar Schein coined the term psychological safety in 1965.
- An increasing percentage of millennials refuse to work for bosses that don't create psychological safety.
- Both Google and Microsoft have identified psychological safety as a key driver of team performance.
- In the United States, a student drops out of high school every 26 seconds. Many of these students drop out as a result of low psychological safety.
- In Australia, 23% of frontline workers report feeling psychological safety versus 45% of higher income workers.
- The K-12 educational establishment is discovering that a focus on psychological safety is the best preventive intervention to reduce the risk of school violence.

Are you convinced yet?


What people are saying.

"Safety, commitment and engagement are subjective topics, difficult to measure and can be the cause of lack of results and turnovers. This book challenges the status quo, revolutionizes leadership perspective and can transform companies and the way they engage with people so they can safely do their best."

Ana Artigas,
Brazilian neuropsychologist,
Best-selling author of Relational Intelligence

"This is not just a book, it is an urgent invitation to the kind of rigorous self-examination that will lead to breakthroughs in every relationship of your life. Timothy Clark offers us both a case for a path to creating the kind of healthy social systems that all of us crave and that modern corporate flourishing demands."

Joseph Grenny,
Co-author Crucial Conversations,
Co-founder of VitalSmarts

"The 4 Stages framework is exceptionally insightful and perfectly logical. With the ongoing diversification of the workplace, Clark's defined path to inclusion and innovation can't be ignored. This book showed me how to improve my performance as both a team member and leader. The analysis and recommendations are insightful and inspiring."

Martin Shell,
Vice President and Chief External Relations Officer,
Stanford University

"Clarks's writing ideas and concepts are insightful; questions inspiring; and images and stories captivating. His work helps leaders create, employees experience, and all of us receive psychological safety to create a better future."

Dave Ulrich,
Rensis Likert Professor,
Ross School of Business University of Michigan

"As a person responsible for the development of employees in 65 countries, I can tell you that this book outlines a must-have culture. A safe space is table stakes for any organization looking to attract and retain talent and innovate from every chair. A powerful call to action."

Simone Ciafardini
Vice President,
Clinique Global Education

Meet the Author

A two-tone photo of Timothy R. Clark

Timothy R. Clark

Timothy R. Clark is founder and CEO of LeaderFactor, a global consulting, training, and assessment organization that focuses on leadership, culture, and change. Dr. Clark is an international authority in the fields of psychological safety & innovation, large-scale change & transformation, and senior leadership development. He has personally worked with more than 200 executive teams around the world.

Dr. Clark is the author of five books, including his new best-seller, The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety: Defining the Path to Inclusion and Innovation. He has also written more than 200 articles in publications such as the Harvard Business Review, Forbes, and Fast Company.

Dr. Clark earned a PhD in social science from Oxford University and was both a British and Fulbright Scholar. He also earned a master’s degree in government and economics from the University of Utah. As an undergraduate at Brigham Young University, he was named a first-team Academic All-American football player where he completed a triple degree cum laude.

Before founding LeaderFactor 15 years ago, Dr. Clark served as the CEO for two companies.

His mantra to leaders is, “Lead as if you have no power.”


The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety for Teams