Want Strategic Alignment? Get To Know Your Sponsor!

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by Dave Wakeman

If you read this blog regularly, you may have noticed that I’ve been focusing on strategy a lot lately. The reason is simple: The alignment between projects and strategy tends to be a significant driver of organizational success.

For this post, I want to focus on a crucial figure when it comes to alignment: the sponsor. In working to align projects and strategy, the sponsor really is the key to whether or not your efforts will be successful.

For this reason, it’s essential that project managers candidly communicate with sponsors. You need to understand how the project fits into the organization and how you can position your project in a way that will deliver on your organization’s strategy.

Here are three tips for optimizing sponsor relations.

1. Keep Pushing for Answers: We’ve all dealt with projects and clients that give us some variation of the classic line from our parents: “Because I said so.” That may have worked for our parents, but it won’t work too well for our careers.

As a proactive leader in your organization, you need to work with your sponsor to understand how the project fits into the organization’s strategy. For some of you, that may seem difficult, but if you frame the questions around wanting to understand where you may be challenged for resources or time, you can usually get the conversation started.

Other questions that will help you discover how well your project aligns with the organization’s goals are:

  • How high a priority is this currently?
  • I’ve read the requirements and goals, but I’m still unclear. What should the ultimate outcome of this project be?

2. Communicate Consistently: One of the big challenges of aligning strategy and projects is that you’re busy, your sponsor is busy, and your team is busy. This is no excuse for not communicating consistently. In fact, a constant stream of demands is a reason you should be communicating consistently—that way you ensure that no one’s efforts are wasted on something that is no longer relevant.

To make sure you communicate consistently with your sponsor, use the following framework:

  • First, set up appropriate reporting and meeting schedules with your team.
  • Second, take the time to digest the information gleaned from your team.
  • Third, adjust your actions and activities to reflect the new realities on the ground.
  • Fourth, set up a consistent time to brief and update your sponsor. Keep that appointment religiously.
  • Finally, get the sponsor’s commitment that important matters can and will be addressed quickly to keep the project on track.

3. Embrace Change: I’m sure that at one time or another we’ve all felt humiliated and downtrodden because our most dear project has been shut down for no discernable reason and we can’t get an explanation from anyone.

These situations are challenging. But you owe it to yourself, your team and your sponsor to embrace change. You also need to proactively address the change, positive or negative, with your sponsor. This will help you gain information that will allow you to make better decisions. But it will also encourage an open dialogue with your sponsor.

Also, proactively dealing with change can be extremely helpful in assisting your sponsor on new courses of action based upon the new information and the new realities that your projects face.

To accelerate your ability to embrace change, ask questions like:

  • How will this change impact our organizational mission?
  • Is this change happening because the project wasn’t in alignment?
  • Does this change provide an opportunity for us to embrace a new set of circumstances or new business opportunities?

I’m curious to find out how you handle these kind of strategic communications with your sponsors. Let me know in a comment below! 

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you sign up for my newsletters: I've now got 2. Once a week, I will send you an email about delivering value in your business. Daily, Monday-Friday, recieve the small business MBA where you will learn tools and techniques along with action items that will help you become more valuable to your business or the organization you work in. For either or both, email me at dave@davewakeman.com!  

Posted by David Wakeman on: July 15, 2015 02:25 PM | Permalink

Comments (7)

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Thank you for this post. I accept completely that communication with sponsors and all key stakeholders are very vital for the success of the project most especially in ensuring that the final deliverable aligns with the objectives of the project. However, it could be sometimes difficult to maintain constant communication with sponsors who most times claim to be too busy to engage in project talks unless if it involves a milestone.
I believe creating a communication strategy right from the beginning of the project which the project manager should get the sponsors and other stakeholders to attest to will help to ensure that communication links are maintained throughout the duration of the project.


I agree that sponsor is very critical in project alignment. The Project Sponsor/Business Owner is normally the go-to person for backlog prioritization and sign-offs prior to go live for us. Having the Sponsor engaged from project initiation to project closure is very important.

Thank you both for your comments.

From Ebenezer's point, a communication schedule and setting expectations is pretty vital. And I think I have written about that in the past. But you can never emphasize that enough because communications really makes or breaks the project's success.



Hi there David
Firstly, thanks for the post. Everyone's comments are so true. I also really like what Ebenezer said. It is so important to have well defined charters and strategies right from the beginning. As for your question, i m student but defining everything well from the start and getting all relevant stakeholders approval is the way i would go. And obviously motivate everyone to adhere the communication charter , etc.

PS: Project Management ROCKS!! ;)

Hi Joseph-

I'm glad you found the post helpful.

I really have found that two things are more important to my success than anything else: planning and communication. From there, everything else flows...at least for me.

Hi Joseph-

I'm glad you found the post helpful.

I really have found that two things are more important to my success than anything else: planning and communication. From there, everything else flows...at least for me.

Thanks David for the post. Appreciate your thoughts on Embracing changes...

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