As humans our mammalian brain seeks to protect us from threats. It is a survival mechanism: if our status is threatened, we feel uncertain about our future, or are treated unfairly we may respond negatively or defensively.

In the workplace, a new leader starting can cause similar feelings of uncertainty and discomfort. The introduction of a Project Manager into an already formed team can cause individuals to feel threatened and consider their autonomy or status to be at risk.

This can signal trouble for the project outcomes before the project is even underway:


“People invariably (though unintentionally) focus on what is best for themselves. Fear is one reason individuals may redirect their focus and organise their energy around self-survival rather than around the objectives of an organisation.”

Brenda Hales, Leadership Coach and Consultant

At Clarkson Alliance, Brenda has helped us to understand how our brains work and – equipped with this understanding – consider ways to become better leaders, who create collaborative, kind environments. If you are looking for a practical way to develop strong interpersonal relationships the SAFETY methodology offers an accessible way to help you lead and work within a team:

  • Security – reassurance that there will be a clear plan of what needs to be done.
  • Autonomy – enables individuals to deliver results within a flexible framework.
  • Fairness – everyone knows they will be treated equally.
  • Esteem – recognition, in front of others, for individual’s contribution to the project.
  • Trust – a sense of belonging and being a valued part of the team.
  • Youindividual fulfilment is an important element.
Understanding individual motivations and responding accordingly helps to make people feel safe within the team, and to work more efficiently and enthusiastically. The behaviour of the leader can be key in developing an atmosphere where people feel rewarded rather than threatened. To quote Simon Sinek: “Leaders make you feel safe…When we feel safe inside an organisation we will naturally combine our talents and our strengths and work tirelessly to face the dangers outside and seize the opportunities.” (listen to his TED talk)

People are the biggest unknown on a project. Strong leadership is essential to breed collaboration, excitement and trust, motivating people to play their part. Whether you join a team at the outset of a project or part way through, it is important to be open minded about changing the way you behave towards the members of the team based on individual requirements. Projects are unique, and so are the people delivering them.

Learn more about how we deliver exceptional projects: