How to be a Trauma Informed Leader

This series of ‘recharge’ blogs explores themes and models that you can refer to in times of stress, to replenish your leadership.
WLA - Trauma Informed Leader
Women & Leadership Australia
03 min read
Updated April 2024
This series of ‘recharge’ blogs explores themes and models that you can refer to in times of stress, to replenish your leadership capacity. In this blog, we look at how the principles of trauma-informed leadership can support you and your school community.

What is trauma-informed leadership?

Have you ever struggled with your wellbeing and engagement at work after an unexpected or traumatic event? If you have, you’ll know that the kind of leader you work with has a big impact on how you recover.Trauma-informed leadership enables you to lead in a compassionate inclusive manner, that ultimately empowers those you lead to grow through a traumatic event. It emphasises nurturing leadership that builds trust and empowers the resilience of your team, and the organisation more broadly. Adopting trauma-informed leadership strategies will help improve staff retention as well as health and wellbeing in your organisation. There are five key principles of trauma-informed leadership:
  • Safety
  • Choice
  • Collaboration
  • Trustworthiness
  • Empowerment

What does trauma-informed leadership look like?

In times of disruption, leaders need to switch from ‘business as usual’ leadership and adopt a more collaborative and encouraging style of leadership, to foster positive connections and culture. Using trauma-informed leadership principles will enable your organisation to heal, learn, adapt and excel, even in the face of adversity.

To be a trauma-informed leader, you should:

  • Practice the five trauma-informed leadership principles above. This can be achieved by consulting and collaborating with all members of your team.
  • Foster a supportive environment for your team. You can do this by actively listening, taking action on people’s concerns and actively including individuals in work and social activities.
  • Ensure psychological and physical safety. Enable this by fostering a ‘no bullying’ culture, not just among your team and the organisation, but also in suppliers, agencies and contractors you choose to work with. Listening to and believing employees when they come to you to report incidents or express their concerns is also important.
  • Use adaptive leadership skills. This can be achieved by thinking outside the box when presented with an issue, being flexible and helping members of your team to embrace uncertainty.
  • Try to understand individuals in your organisation holistically. This is an easy one; making an effort to gently enquire about the weekends, evenings and any hobbies and activities of individuals in your organisation will give you a holistic view of them, both as they are in the work, and beyond. Not only will this increase your rapport and social capital, but it will also allow you to better understand their actions and response to different situations.
  • Offer support. Having an ‘open door’ policy will encourage your team to come to you if they ever need support. Make sure you have an in-depth understanding of the support that the organisation itself can offer, and also other community groups or services that might be able to help.
When we think of trauma, the first thing that usually comes to mind is a broken bone, or PTSD that is the result of a dramatic, unforeseen, terrifying circumstance. However, any unexpected event or injury can create a trauma response. By practising trauma-informed leadership in your organisation, you will provide a safe space for people to re-engage with the work, and to heal and move forward.