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What is Trauma-Informed Leadership?

What is Trauma Informed?

To be trauma-informed refers to the understanding that people often experience different types of trauma, including emotional, physical, s-xual, religious, relational, racial, workplace, identity-based, environmental, and many other forms. Someone who is trauma informed, often tries to help others while avoiding re-traumatizing them. Trauma-informed individuals carry awareness of the unique characteristics of an individual’s trauma experience (e.g., needs, culture, context). A goal of being trauma informed is fostering trust with another person.

What is Workplace Trauma?

Workplace trauma or work-related PTSD, refers to trauma experiences that are rooted in workplace events, environments, and relationships. Some jobs may inherently increase the risk of exposure to traumatic events, including healthcare workers, therapists and social workers, law enforcement, firefighters, and many more. However, nearly any occupation can cause workplace trauma. Risks for work place trauma include: 

  • Emotional, physical, financial, or s-xual abuse 
  • Harassment 
  • Microagressions 
  • Power dynamics 
  • “Cut throat” environments

PTSD VS Work-Related PTSD

People who are living with PTSD often experience symptoms like: 

  • Substance use 
  • Mood instability 
  • Fatigue 
  • Panic 
  • Poor concentration 

People who are living with work-pace related trauma often experience symptoms like:

  • Low productivity/performance 
  • Frequent mistakes 
  • Interpersonal conflict

Why Does Workplace Trauma Affect Us So Much?

Workplace trauma is often dismissed as “stress.” Workplace trauma is not synonymous with workplace stress. Stress refers to worrying or anxiety due to a difficult situation. Trauma is the product of continued exposure to high levels of stress. Workplace trauma affects us so much because… 

  • We depend on our employment for financial necessity 
  • We spend most of our time at work 
  • Work can be an identity for many people 
  • So much of our lives revolve around work and work-related things.

What is Trauma-Informed Leadership?

Trauma-informed leadership embeds trauma-informed principles in its leadership style. Trauma-informed leaders understand that employees may have differing levels of trauma, which can impact learning and performance. Trauma-informed leaders also avoid traumatizing (or retraumatizing) employees through their leadership style and managerial practices.

Tips for Trauma-Informed Leadership Styles

Because trauma experiences and responses are unique to an individual, there is not one way to be a trauma-informed leader. However, there are some ways that leaders can embed a trauma-informed framework into their leadership style. 

  • Educate. Spend time learning about the ways trauma may show up in the workplace. 
  • Reflect. Reflect on your own trauma responses and how they show up at work. Ask yourself how your behaviors may unintentionally re/traumatize others. 
  • Trust. Work towards earning your employees’ trust. How will you maintain trust? How will you address ruptures?
  • Respect. Like trust, it is important to earn the respect of your employees. This is done by respecting your employees’ identities, workload, privacy, boundaries, and personal time. 
  • Mindfulness. Remain aware of how your actions can be re/traumatizing to employees. Manage emotional reactivity Avoid microaggressions Avoid reinforcing power dynamics. 
  • Equity. Understand that people have different working, learning, and communication styles. These styles require unique needs. Trauma-informed leaders are malleable, collaborate with their employees, and do not adopt a “one size fits all” approach.
  • Accountability. It is easy to pin blame on the underperforming individual. A trauma-informed leader looks to systemic barriers and their own facts before looking to the individual. 
  • Empathy. See the world through the lens of your employees. Avoid springing tasks and deadlines on them. Conduct wellbeing checks on staff periodically. 
  • Strengths-based. Focus on your employees’ strengths rather than honing in on their weaknesses. 
  • Investment. Take the time to invest in your staff. No matter what level, staff want to grow. Help them achieve their goals. 
  • Transparency. Be honest with staff. Avoid making false promises or going back on your word.

This page is also part of the Roamers Therapy Glossary; a collection of mental-health related definitions that are written by our therapists.

While our offices are currently located at the South Loop neighborhood of Downtown Chicago, Illinois, we also welcome and serve clients for online therapy from anywhere in Illinois and Washington, D.C. Clients from the Chicagoland area may choose in-office or online therapy and usually commute from surrounding areas such as River North, West Loop, Gold Coast, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lake View, Rogers Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, Bridgeport, Little Village, Bronzeville, South Shore, Hyde Park, Back of the Yards, Wicker Park, Bucktown and many more. You can visit our contact page to access detailed information on our office location.