Managing a project sponsor

the project sponsor

One of the critical success factors for any project is the presence and participation of an effective project sponsor.

Often the project sponsor  is someone holding a senior position within the organization and is responsible for initiating and approving the project and supporting the project manager during execution.

The project sponsor identifies the business needs of the project, helps the project manager keep the work on track, and ensures that the organization obtains benefits from the the final results.

The key attributes of a project sponsor

The project sponsor must have a strong appreciation of the organization’s strategic goals, must understand the role as a sponsor and exert influence and it would be an advantage, if it had direct experience in project management.

Some key attributes for a project sponsor are:

  • Strategic and innovative mentality
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Excellent communication skills, including negotiation and conflict management
  • Strong decision making processes

Roles and responsibilities of project sponsors

Unlike the project manager, who oversees the team and the daily execution of key tasks, the sponsor helps create the right environment to support the project manager.

This support can take a variety of forms such as:

  • Aligning the project with the corporate strategy.
  • Participating in project planning.
  • Ensuring that the proposed solution solves the agreed problem and the requirements.
  • Assistance in resource management.
  • Ensuring that the project is started and executed in accordance with established standards and best practices.
  • Monitoring project progress and helping in taking corrective action if necessary.
  • Cultivating buy-in and stakeholder engagement.
  • Providing timely and informed information on key project decisions.
  • Solving problems and conflicts outside the scope of project manager authority.
  • Evaluating the success of the project at its end.
  • Celebrating and rewarding success.
  • Project manager mentoring when and as needed.

With so many responsibilities and an active role, the project sponsor is one of the real owners of the project.

No wonder then, if a sponsor can make or break a project.

Challenges in working with a project sponsor

Developing a beneficial relationship with the project sponsor is complicated for different reasons.

Typically, project sponsors are assigned to a project before work begins, which means that project managers rarely have the opportunity to choose it.

Moreover, an individual who has no project management experience but who is going to fill the role due to – for example – his seniority within the organization could take the project sponsor role.

Project sponsors are people who are also generally involved in other activities, outside the project, and may not have sufficient time to provide useful advice and support in case of difficulty.

Project managers who work with inefficient or useless sponsors have two choices: go ahead in the best way or “manage” and help the project sponsor play their role.

 Four key steps to work with the project sponsor

Here are the four steps that can help you work with the project sponsor:

1. Set expectations

Before starting a new project, it is essential to meet the project sponsor to decide how to collaborate. This step is particularly important, if the project manager has never worked with the sponsor or if the sponsor is taking on this role for the first time.

It is good practice to hold this meeting even if the two parties have already worked together previously and even if the sponsor is an expert. Each project is indeed different and requires alignment from the beginning.

Use the meeting to establish roles and responsibilities, identify the resources required and establish a communication plan, review and refine the project plan, identifying the main milestones.

2. Preliminary meeting

Ask the project sponsor to participate in the preliminary meeting with the team in order to share the vision of the project and the desired result.

In this way, also the project team will have clearer ideas about all project stakeholders.
project sponsor

3. Communication

 As the project progresses, keep the sponsor busy and informed. The communication channels include status meetings, automated reports and dashboards using, for example, a project management software.

It is also important to examine the communication style and preferences of the sponsor and adapt them as needed.

4. Keep the sponsor involved (h3)

 In addition to updates and status reports, the project manager must periodically ask the sponsor for information and directions. It is important to look for their input when it comes to problems and difficulties or when alternative approaches need to be compared.

A valid project sponsor, in fact, should care for and support the project manager and has a vast knowledge to share. Involving a project sponsor helps building a rewarding relationship for all.

The relationship with the sponsor and the end of project document

At the end of a project, a project manager must always proceed to an analysis concerning the relationship with the project sponsor.

This can help improve the commitment of the sponsors and the management of any future projects.

  • What worked and what did not?
  • What challenges have been encountered in the relationship with the project sponsor?
  • Are there specific tools or processes when working with sponsors within the organization?

These and other questions serve to collect experiences. They are the key to establishing best practices in order to have an efficient relationship between project managers and project sponsors.

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