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Self-Efficacy for Aid Workers

Dr. Donald S. Bosch
Director of Risk Psychology and HEAT , Headington Institute, 2015.


Developing a sense of self-efficacy is one of the cornerstones of being resilient.  Just what does this mean?  One of the original researchers of this concept, Albert Bandura, described self-efficacy as follows:

“Whatever other factors serve as guides and motivators, they are rooted in the core belief that one has the power to produce desired effects by one’s actions, otherwise one has little incentive to act or to persevere in the face of difficulties.” (Benight & Bandura, 2004)

Self-efficacy is a belief and confidence in your coping ability across a wide range of demanding situations.  Depending on upbringing and genetic heritage, some may more naturally possess this belief than others.  However, it is something we can all learn to develop.

There are three key areas of self-efficacy that are particularly important for humanitarians and first responders.

  1. Learning to competently manage your emotional response is critical to maintaining your ability to think and act in intense situations.  Emotional competence can be defined as knowing what you are feeling and communicating it in a way another person can understand and process.  Emotion is an early evolutionary development that allows us to sense what is going on in our environment. For example, fear can spread through a crowd without a word being said.  Among other cues, the amount of white in the eyes transmits this information to our brain.  It is essential that we know when we are feeling fear or anger, without these feelings hijacking our ability to think and communicate in a rational way. Certainly, we can all improve in this area.
  2. For you to know that you can operate in the field effectively, you need the necessary training and skills in your sector.  Ensuring that you have the practical and technical skills to do your job well helps you develop a sense of self-efficacy.
  3. Maintaining your physical health and well-being is necessary for the demanding work required in the humanitarian and first responder professions.  Regular physical exercise helps us manage the stress involved in the work.  It literally grows new brain cells in an area of the brain that helps us manage the stress response better.  Sleep is also critical.  Adults need 7-9 hours of sleep a night for their brain to stay healthy.  Less than that can lead to poor memory, bad decisions, and overall poor health.  Understandably, in some situations long hours are necessary to handle the crisis at hand.  However, this cannot be prolonged without serious consequences to both yourself and your behavior and decisions.

Developing more self-efficacy is a lifelong endeavor.  Competently managing your emotional response, ensuring you have the necessary practical and technical skills, and attending to the fitness and well-being of your physical body will help you be successful and sustain you over time.


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