The Best Leaders Are The Ones Who Make Us Feel Safe

Safety is something we feel in our bodies

Jessica Donahue, PHR
5 min readJan 5


Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Have you seen the Twitter post that asks us to “imagine if we measured success by the amount of safety that people felt in our presence?”

I doubt the author, an Astrologer, was thinking about the workplace when he penned this tweet but isn’t this the crux of what great leadership is all about?

The Best Leaders Are The Ones Who Help Us Feel Psychological Safety
Source: @jonathanldent on Twitter

Looking back at my career, it’s clear that the best leaders I ever worked for were the ones who made me feel safe. Safe to share my perspective. Safe to disagree. Safe to experiment and make a mistake or two.

They made it feel safe to show up and just be me, even on the days when I wasn’t at my best.

If you had asked me two years ago to define “safety,” I probably would have stared blankly back at you as if you were asking me a trick question.

Unless there was a gun being held to my head, surely I was “safe.”


That assumption changed when I embarked on a journey to unpack some childhood trauma in therapy about nine months ago. Suddenly I was spending a lot more time thinking, talking, and learning about what safety meant and, more importantly, how it feels.

In the realm of trauma healing or reprocessing, the concept of “safety” is a big deal. People impacted by trauma tend to feel “unsafe in their bodies and in their relationships with others,” which is why the very first goal of treatment is to establish a sense of safety.

Safety, I soon learned, is something we feel — or don’t feel — in our bodies via our autonomic nervous systems (ANS). The (ANS) is always at work scanning, interpreting, and responding to cues of danger through a process called neuroception.

The ANS is comprised of the parasympathetic nervous system and the sympathetic nervous system. When we’re surrounded by cues that are perceived as safe, our body relaxes into a state of “rest and digest” with the help of our parasympathetic nervous system.



Jessica Donahue, PHR

Fractional HR & People Ops for Startups & Early Stage Companies