How to Deal With Bad Sponsor Behavior

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Project managers face many challenges every day. Whether it is a risk that suddenly becomes an issue, a deadline moving backwards or other unanticipated changes, the project life is rarely a picnic.

One challenge project managers don’t want to see is problem behavior by sponsors. Projects need sponsors to provide executive support and resources. So it is essential for the project manager to find ways to have working relationships with all types of sponsors.

An article in September’s PM Network® provides a roadmap of cringe-worthy sponsor behavior—and advice on how to deal with it. Sometimes the advice might appear counterintuitive, like offering calm empathy to an angry or even bullying sponsor. But it works!

For the micromanaging sponsor, a project manager might have a team meeting to review the governance and function of each team member. But don’t forget to find out why this type of sponsor feels the need to “get into the weeds”—there may be a legitimate reason.

The poor communicator makes it difficult to get answers—and answers you get tend to be vague or unspecific. Project managers might need to build more rapport with this type of sponsor and start with more open-ended questions. If this doesn’t work, perhaps a third party of similar or higher rank than the sponsor can trigger more complete communication.

A rubber-stamping sponsor might seem like a good thing, making approvals quick and easy. But if a project veers out of strategic alignment, this type of sponsor might not be helpful. If this happens, the project manager should talk with the sponsor about strategic alignment and seek to focus the sponsor’s attention on that. In some companies, the project manager might have to go to a higher-level manager once in a while to confirm strategic alignment.

Finally, the “AWOL” sponsor is just too hard to track down. How can the project manager get on that sponsor’s calendar? The answer to pinning down an overbooked sponsor might involve being available outside the usual working hours, or limiting a meeting request to 15 minutes. But if sponsor absenteeism is causing the project to slip, the project manager might have to suggest the use of a backup sponsor.

What have you done to keep projects on track despite these types of sponsors? Please share your stories in the comments below.

Posted on: September 14, 2018 12:01 PM | Permalink

Comments (12)

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Great insight! The value of being a good communicator cannot be overstated. Thanks!

Dan, Great thoughts! Thanks for sharing! It is really difficult to manage a bad sponsor behavior. As a project manager it is our responsibility to deal with this type of sponsors. I feel frequent communication will help to manage bad behavior of the sponsors.

Thanks, Dan, for the issue insights. Cater to sponsors as needed while maintaining the integrity of the project.

Very interesting, thanks for sharing

Good write up.It all goes back to soft skills

The poor old sponsor is getting a bad rap this month.

Important link of project management chain and project success..

Thanks a lot for sharing nice insights about project sponsors engagement.

Great insights Dan, thanks highlighting this article. Dealing with a bad sponsor is something that happens in many occasions.

Should there be a sponsor certification? Overlooked Role!

There is another category too - There aren't official sponsors. There may be "group" of people who want something done by your team but aren't officially designated sponsors. So, now you also have accountability issues. In the agile world too, a spin off may be that your product owner doesn't have a finite set of stakeholders. I am in a similar situation right now. I am trying to get numbers via portfolio for JIRA tool on the backlog health. That's step 1. Hoping to get some reactions once I have the numbers out there. Numbers don't lie! :)

Thanks for sharing, good sponsors also turn into challenging sponsors, as you said "the project life is rarely a picnic"

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