The Project Sponsor Role: How a Great Project Sponsor Helps you Succeed

Having a great project sponsor can contribute to the success of your project. But what should you expect from the person serving in the project sponsor role? What can he do for you and your project? And how can the person in the project sponsor role help support your project’s success?

You know the Project Manager role and responsibilities.  But what about the Project Sponsor? What role does he play in your project’s sucess and how does he support you?

You’ll possibly need to leverage this support at some point during the project. At the very least, you want to know that you have a strong backing.

Your project sponsor is a key stakeholder who has the best interest of your project in mind. He should champion your project and provide the support needed for success.

The project sponsor role is one that supports the project manager and team by getting organizational support for the project. The project manager runs the project. The sponsor receives support at a higher strategic level.

This list will help you know what the person serving in the project sponsor role can do for your and your project’s success.

 

The Project Sponsor Role

 

The project sponsor can contribute to your project success through the following activities. These are ways that he sets you up for success in the beginning, and continues to provide support throughout execution.

 

    1. Identify or validate the business need. The sponsor will provide a strong problem statement and clarify the business need. He’ll use this problem statement to communicate the “why” of the project to others, and give you a solid understanding of why the project is needed and the value it will provide.
    2. Prioritizes the project among other initiatives. If various projects are competing for the same resources, the project sponsor will champion the project to ensure it gets prioritized appropriately. The sponsor will represent the business benefits and why it merits prioritization. Conversely, if the project sponsor sees that for some reason the project no longer is needed, she shouldn’t hesitate to halt the project.
    3. Ensure you have adequate resources. If your project doesn’t have the resources it needs, there’s risk that your timeline or quality will suffer. The project sponsor role will champion the project cause and ensure that resources are available. This is true not only at the beginning of the project but during the project, too. If you find that for some reason your project needs additional resources your sponsor will help acquire them. This could range from additional team members, vendors providing services or software licenses for users.
    4. Secure the project budget. The project sponsor makes sure the project gets the funding needed to initiate the project. Additionally, if there’s a change in scope or need for additional funding during execution, the project sponsor supports the request for additional budget needs.
    5. Resolve escalated issues. The project sponsor helps resolve issues that need to be escalated and resolved at a higher level of authority than the project manager can address alone. For example, if your team is working to retire legacy software, yet users resist the change, the project manager likely cannot mandate that users make the switch. The project sponsor can help with this issue by addressing it at a higher level. That could mean communicating a corporate direction to retire legacy systems, sharing executive mandates, or even communicating the business drivers for the change.
    6. Communicate with stakeholders.  Lack of stakeholder engagement and support is a big risk to your project success. (Read “10 Reasons Why Projects Fail” for others.)  Many times the project manager can communicate directly with stakeholders. Other times, communication from the Project Sponsor is needed. If there are communication opportunities to broader executives that should be made by another executive, the project sponsor may want to be the one to share this messaging. Additionally, if there are large enterprise communications that need to come from someone with more authority, the project sponsor sending these messages can carry more weight. Back to our example of retiring legacy systems, users will give the message more gravity if it comes from an executive than if it comes from a project manager. When the project sponsor shares the message, it shows her support and commitment to the change. http://projectbliss.net/reasons-why-projects-fail/
    7. Executive support. The sponsor gets project support from other executives and stakeholders. If you encounter resistance, need funding, or need to mobilize teams, getting executive support can help with this. Your project sponsor should be willing to step up to get support if you find your project facing obstacles that you can’t overcome.
    8. Decision-making. The project sponsor makes project decisions that need to be made at a higher executive-level. There are many decisions that the project manager can make. Yet there are often decisions that the sponsor must make at a higher level of authority. If project-related decisions have broad reach or impact, consult your project sponsor for final decision-making authority. You as the project manager will make recommendations to the project sponsor, yet the project sponsor will make the final decision.
    9. Approve Changes to the Project. If a project has a change in scope, schedule, or other baselined component, the project sponsor will approve the changes. The project manager presents the proposed changes to the sponsor, who has the approval authority for the team to make the changes to the plan.
    10. Mentor the Project Manager. While the project sponsor won’t micromanage the project, he’ll work with the project manager and provide insight and guidance to help her grow in her skills. This abstract explains that a project sponsor “should look for ways to help the project manager be more effective.”

     

    What to do if you have a weak Project Sponsor

    Consider this story:

    Kirk came to me to express his concern about the lack of support from his project sponsor. Kirk was brought on as an expert consultant to implement a solution for one of the divisions. The project sponsor had identified the business need, secured funding and other resources, and gotten the project started. But his involvement ended there. He didn’t share the vision with his subordinates. He never communicated about his support for the project. He expressed no further interest and didn’t seem to care if the solution was adopted or not.

    Kirk knew that he could put everything in place and get the software ready to roll out. He could get the technical team to move it into a production environment. But he couldn’t force the users actually to adopt the software and use it.

    Even if Kirk successfully moved the software to a production environment, if no one ever used it they’d never get the benefits. All that effort would have been for nothing. And the project couldn’t honestly be called a success.

    We made efforts to get more involvement from the sponsor. We escalated the concern. We had discussions with him. He shared with us that he wanted this solution to be rolled out and adopted. But he didn’t communicate that to anyone else. No one knew he cared. As a result the potential users didn’t care. No one used the software. All that money and time was spent for nothing.

     

    Though you won’t choose your project sponsor, you may need to take action if your sponsor isn’t stepping up to provide the support your project needs. Having a weak project sponsor can be a risk to your project.

     

    What to do if you have poor project sponsor support:

    If the project sponsor isn’t providing the support a project needs, the project manager must use her communication skills to convey the risk to the project. First get clear on what those risks are and what you need from the project sponsor. Be clear on what the team has tried already and what’s not working so that the sponsor has the necessary background information.

    If you’re unclear about your project sponsor’s expectations, discuss the project goals with him. Ask questions to get clarity on expected outcomes. Ask the project sponsor what a successful outcome looks like. Having them define project success helps you both get clearer about the desired outcome.

    If your project sponsor has set unrealistic goals for the team, be honest about the limitations. Explain the reasons that the team can’t meet the expectations, and develop a more realistic plan that the sponsor can agree to. Putting off this discussion will only lead to stress for you and the team, and disappointment for the sponsor.

 

Conclusion

Knowing the responsibilities of the project sponsor role can help you leverage your project sponsor for increased project success. You’ll be better equipped to speak openly and seek support when needed. And you’re better equipped to discuss challenges that you may experience from poor project sponsorship. This can make a huge difference in your project’s success.

 

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