What Does a Project Sponsor Really Do?

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Categories: Stakeholder

A recent commenter suggested I write a post to help clarify the project sponsor's role.

Your project sponsor is the key link between the project management team and the organization's executive management. An effective sponsor "owns" the project and has the ultimate responsibility for seeing that the intended benefits are realized to create the value forecast in the business case.

A good project sponsor will not interfere in the day-to-day running of the project -- that's the role of the project manager. But, the sponsor should help the project manager facilitate the necessary organizational support needed to make strategic decisions and create a successful project.

With respect to the project, effective sponsors should:

  • Create alignment. The sponsor helps keep the project aligned with business and cultural goals.
  • Communicate on behalf of the project, particularly with other stakeholder groups in senior management. The sponsor also communicates his or her personal commitment to the project's success on multiple occasions.
  • Gain commitment. The sponsor is a key advocate for the project. He or she "walks the talk" and gains commitment from other key stakeholders.
  • Arrange resources. The sponsor ensures the project's benefits are fully realized by arranging the resources necessary to initiate and sustain the change within the organization.
  • Facilitate problem solving. The sponsor ensures issues escalated from the project are solved effectively at the organizational level. This includes decisions on changes, risks, conflicting objectives and any other issue that is outside of the project manager's designated authority.
  • Support the project manager. The sponsor offers mentoring, coaching and leadership when dealing with business and operational matters.
  • Build durability. The sponsor ensures that the project's outputs will be sustained by ensuring that people and processes are in place to maintain it once the project completes its handover.
If you have a good sponsor, look after him or her. If your sponsor does not understand the role or is unwilling to fulfill the role, however, you need to speak up. Carrying on without an effective sponsor raises the probability of project failure and you as the project manager will be held accountable for that failing.

It's important to flag the lack of effective sponsorship as a key risk to the project. It may not make you popular, but you have an ethical responsibility to clearly define risks that need management attention.

Ultimately the organization's executive management is responsible for training and appointing effective sponsors. If this has not happened, as project managers, all we can do is help those sponsors who are willing to be helped and flag a risk or issue for those that are missing or unwilling to support "their project."

Read more about project sponsors. 

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: April 05, 2012 12:11 PM | Permalink

Comments (6)

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Todd/The Project Management Steps
Great article.

This is very timely for me as I just had a discussion with some co-workers about the very same thing.

Having a person as a sponsor on a project who understands the role and who executes his responsibilities is vital to the success of any project.

Far too many people get named as the sponsor but don't take the time or interest to actually fulfill the role which is super important. Thanks for the article.

Padmakar Boyapati
Few more responsibilities of the Project sponsor coming to my mind are:

1) Chair the Project steering Committee.

2) Review the Project Status and help the project team to bring the project back into track, in case of any deviations.

3) Decision making for either approving or rejecting the changes and ensure that proper impact analysis is done before making a decision.

Felipe Díaz
I agree with this article. The Sponsor is a very important for a correct implementation, execution and normal development process of the project. Communication between project managers and sponsors should be agile, efficient and most importantly, satisfying. Expectations must be defined at the beginning of the project and agreed by the main sponsor. Communication is a good capacity of project manager and his project team to take charge of a problem. Treating the problem at the right time will be a major key to developing good communication and maintaining trust with the stakeholders. Best Regards, Felipe Díaz PM MBA

The support and involvement of project sponsor can make a big be the difference to the outcome of a project.

In general, more involved sponsors and other stakeholders make huge impact on the way project progresses. It also manifests itself that key decision and risks are addressed in more timely manners and there is no wastage of project resources waiting for a key decision. Followings are some of the ways a sponsor can influence the project:

1. Periodic review of project progress and risks
2. Assisting in mobilizing resources on the project
3. Getting much needed executive support & buy - in
4. Supporting the project manager in his / her endeavors
5. Guiding the project vision through out the course
6. Providing decision support on key issues
7. Representing in Change Advisory Board


Maja Kowalski
May I also add that the role of the Sponsor is to openly advocate for the project ... what I call an Active and Visible Sponsorship

David West
Great article, thank you! In the interest of simplification and to adhere to the rule of three I would say: 1) Communicating the Project Vision 2) Owning the Business Case 3) Realizing the Benefits

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