How to Work Effectively with Your Project Sponsor

Shubhangi Pandey
By | Updated December 14, 2023 | 15 min read

Key Take Aways

  • Project sponsors are critical to the success of a project. They provide the necessary resources, support, and guidance to ensure that the project is completed on time, within budget, and to the satisfaction of stakeholders.
  • Effective communication is key to a successful relationship between the project manager and sponsor. The project manager should keep the sponsor informed of progress, risks, and issues throughout the project lifecycle.
  • Establishing clear roles and responsibilities is essential to avoid confusion and ensure accountability. The project manager and sponsor should agree on the scope of the project, the expected outcomes, and the metrics for success.
  • Managing expectations is another important aspect of working with a project sponsor. The project manager should ensure that the sponsor’s expectations are realistic and achievable, and that they align with the project’s goals and objectives.
  • Building trust is crucial to a successful project sponsor relationship. The project manager should be transparent, honest, and open in their communication with the sponsor, and should work to establish a strong working relationship based on mutual respect and trust.

Overview

Reflect on your most recent successful project. What were the driving forces behind its success? Was it the clarity of purpose backed by a meticulous plan? Access to the right resources at the right time? An enthusiastic and engaged team? Or perhaps a stroke of luck played a part?

While numerous elements contribute to a project’s triumph, one factor stands out as crucial yet often elusive: the active involvement of a project sponsor. Understanding business strategy analysis can be critical in aligning your project with your organization’s overarching goals.

 

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In this article, we delve into the all-encompassing role of project sponsors, exploring their strategic importance in project management, the common challenges encountered, and practical strategies for fostering a mutually beneficial relationship with them.

If you grapple with sponsor engagement, the insights and practical tips ahead will empower you to leverage this vital relationship for project success.

Who is the Project Sponsor?

A project sponsor, typically a senior manager or a key stakeholder in an organization, plays a critical role in the success of project management. They are entrusted with high-level responsibilities, acting as the bridge between senior management and the project team.

Project sponsors use various strategies to identify the business needs behind the project, help the project manager keep work on track, and ensure the organization enjoys the full benefits of the final deliverables.

Understanding the Sponsor’s Strategic Role

The project sponsor should possess a strong appreciation of your organization’s strategic goals, understand their role as sponsor, exert influence, and have some project management experience.

They act as a liaison between senior management and the project team, often fulfilling the roles and responsibilities that bridge the gap between strategy and implementation.

Key Attributes of an Effective Project Sponsor

It’s also important to consider any project sponsor’s personality, temperament, and skill set. Some key attributes to look for are:

  • A strategic, innovative mindset to align the project with the organization’s long-term objectives.
  • High emotional intelligence and self-awareness to navigate the dynamics of project management and external stakeholders.
  • Excellent communication skills, including negotiation and conflict management, ensure project success.
  • Strong decision-making skills to oversee the project’s critical roles and manage potential risks effectively.

 

The role of the project sponsor is a part-time position. The sponsor will have other responsibilities outside of the project, such as overseeing day operations or participating in senior managers’ meetings, making their time extremely valuable.

As a bridge between the project manager and the executive team, they ensure that the project aligns with the organization’s strategic planning and achieves successful outcomes.

What Are the Responsibilities of a Project Sponsor?

Unlike the project manager, who oversees the team and daily execution of critical tasks, the sponsor helps to create the right environment to support the project manager. This support can take a variety of forms, such as:

Aligning the Project with Business Strategy

The project sponsor ensures that the project aligns with the organization’s strategic goals and business objectives. They work to integrate the project’s aims with the broader corporate strategy, ensuring that it contributes to the business’s overall success.

Participating in Project Planning

The sponsor plays an active role in the project’s planning phase, offering insights and guidance to shape the project’s direction. Here, understanding how to manage expectations is crucial. They collaborate to develop the project plan, ensuring it is robust, realistic, and aligned with business needs.

Developing a Clear, Concise Problem Statement

The sponsor articulates the problem that the project aims to solve. They ensure the problem statement is clearly defined, setting a focused direction for the project team. The effectiveness of this role is essential, as research indicates that the project sponsor’s ability to define and communicate the project’s goals and objectives is a crucial factor in its ultimate success.

Ensuring the Proposed Solution Resolves the Agreed Issue

The sponsor ensures that the solution developed by the project team addresses the specific problem identified without straying into unrelated areas. They maintain focus on the agreed issue to ensure project relevance and effectiveness.

Creating and Consistently Sharing an Inspiring Vision

The sponsor motivates the project team by sharing a compelling vision of the project’s impact. Their enthusiasm and commitment to the vision inspire team members to engage fully with the project. Creating an effective project communication plan is vital in this regard.

Assisting with Resource Management

The sponsor aids in managing resources, including budgets and allocating skilled team members. They ensure the project has the necessary financial and human resources to succeed.

Ensuring Project Launch and Execution Meet Standards

The sponsor ensures the project is launched and executed according to established organizational standards and best practices, maintaining quality and consistency.

Tracking Project Progress and Taking Corrective Action

The sponsor monitors project performance, taking corrective action if it veers off track, ensuring it remains aligned with its goals.

Addressing Last-Minute Change Requests

They handle any unexpected change requests that might delay or derail the project, ensuring that these are managed effectively to minimize impact.

Securing Buy-in and Stakeholder Engagement

The sponsor is responsible for securing buy-in from critical stakeholders and fostering engagement and support throughout the project.

Providing Timely, Informed Input on Key Decisions

They offer informed insights into critical decisions, driving the project forward and ensuring decisions are made promptly.

Resolving Issues Beyond Project Manager’s Authority

The sponsor addresses issues and conflicts outside the project manager’s authority, ensuring smooth project progression.

Evaluating Project Success upon Completion

Post-project, the sponsor evaluates the project’s success, assessing its outcomes against initial objectives and learning from the experience.

Celebrating and Rewarding Success

Recognizing achievements, the sponsor celebrates and rewards the team’s success, fostering a culture of recognition and motivation.

Mentoring the Project Manager

They mentor the project manager, offering guidance and support to build their capabilities and skills.

With such a wide and varied remit, the project sponsor is the valid owner and ultimately accountable for its outcome. It is little wonder that a project sponsor can make or break a project.

You may be wondering why engaging with a project sponsor is so tricky. Let’s look at some challenges and obstacles.

What Are the Most Common Challenges When Working with a Project Sponsor?

Developing a beneficial relationship with your project sponsor can be complicated for several reasons.

One major challenge is that, typically, project sponsors are assigned to a project before work commences, meaning project managers rarely have the opportunity to choose their sponsor.

It can lead to a mismatch in expectations and working styles between the project manager and the sponsor.

Challenges in Sponsor Assignment

Appointing sponsors to projects they are not genuinely invested in poses a significant challenge. This situation often occurs because a project needs a sponsor for approval.

As a result, the project may end up with a sponsor who lacks commitment or a deep understanding of the project’s objectives, impacting the project’s overall direction and success.

The ‘Accidental Project Sponsor’

The project sponsor may be an ‘accidental project sponsor,’ a term referring to individuals who lack project management experience but become project sponsors due to their seniority within the organization. This lack of knowledge can lead to misunderstandings and misalignments regarding the project’s goals and the best ways to achieve them.

Lack of Resources for Project Sponsors

While project managers have access to various sources of knowledge and training, no comparable resources are readily available for project sponsors. This often leaves them unsure of their exact role and responsibilities, hindering their ability to guide and support the project effectively.

Busy Schedules of Project Sponsors

Project sponsors are often busy individuals involved in multiple projects simultaneously. Their packed schedules may prevent them from dedicating adequate time and attention to each project, especially when providing helpful advice and support to struggling projects.

Research shows that most project sponsors (67%) are involved in 2-5 projects simultaneously, and 15% are interested in 6-10 projects, highlighting the challenge of their limited availability.

Issues with Sponsor Influence and Engagement

Suppose your project sponsor operates at the wrong level or lacks organizational influence. They may struggle to advocate effectively for the project. This lack of clout can be a significant barrier, especially when critical decisions or approvals are required to move the project forward.

Dealing With Unhelpful Sponsor Relationships

Project managers working with disengaged or unhelpful sponsors face a tough choice:

Either forge ahead as best they can or manage up to help project sponsors effectively fulfill their role. The latter option involves guiding and supporting the sponsor to understand better and engage with the project.

Below are four steps to help project managers effectively engage with and support their project sponsors, ensuring a more productive and successful collaboration.

4 Steps to Working with Your Project Sponsor

Working effectively with your project sponsor, often a key stakeholder and senior manager, is critical to project success. To easily streamline your project management processes, we recommend using Office 365 integrations.

The following steps provide a roadmap for establishing a productive and collaborative relationship with your sponsor, focusing on strategic objectives and project goals and ensuring alignment with business objectives and corporate strategy.

1. Set Expectations

Before launching a new project, meet with your project sponsor to decide how you will work together. This step is significant if you have never worked with the sponsor or if the sponsor is taking up this role for the first time. As noted above, project sponsors cannot help if they do not know what is required.

It is good practice to hold this meeting even if you have worked together previously or if your sponsor is quite experienced. Every project is different and requires alignment from the outset.

Use the meeting to establish roles and responsibilities, identify required resources, and establish a communication plan. Review and refine the project plan with the sponsor, identifying key milestones and check-in points.

Finally, ensure the sponsor understands why their input and commitment are essential to the project.

2. Kick-off Meeting

Ask the project sponsor to attend the kick-off meeting with the team to share their vision for the project and its proposed outcome. The project sponsor’s attendance also indicates the project’s importance to senior management, a helpful motivator!

3. Communication

As the project progresses, revert to the communication plan established in Step 1 to keep your sponsor engaged and informed. Tools like BrightWork 365 can be instrumental in facilitating a seamless exchange.

Communication channels include status meetings, automated reports, dashboards using a collaborative tool like BrightWork, and impromptu conversations. The plan should also outline processes for addressing urgent situations or decisions.

Your sponsor is time-poor, so every communication should have a clear objective and required actions. Be clear, concise, and direct. Examining your sponsor’s communication style and preferences and adjusting as needed is vital.

Does the sponsor prefer meetings to email? Are they highly analytical and love lots of charts? Perhaps the sponsor just needs a high-level summary? Remember to incorporate the language and terminology used by the sponsor.

4. Keep Them Involved

In addition to status updates and reports, ask your sponsor periodically for their insight and guidance.

Seek their input when dealing with issues, a difficult team member, or brainstorming alternative approaches. The best project sponsors coach and nurture project managers and have extensive knowledge to share.

Reaching out to your sponsor keeps them involved in the project. It helps to build a rewarding relationship for all involved.

Why is a Project Sponsor Important to Your Project?

We have established why a project sponsor is paramount to your project. Their role is integral in aligning the project with the organization’s strategic objectives and ensuring successful project management and completion.

This study reveals how sponsors can effectively champion projects and ensure they align with organizational strategy. Read more to learn how you can make a difference in your organization.

Tackling Challenges in Sponsor Engagement

It’s important to recognize and address common challenges to avoid in sponsor engagement. This involves improving sponsor engagement and project portfolio management within your organization. Addressing these challenges enhances the potential for successful outcomes and efficient project progression.

Reviewing Past Sponsor Relationships

Firstly, review your relationship with previous or current sponsors. Assess what worked and what didn’t, the challenges encountered, and the effectiveness of any tools or processes when working with sponsors. Reflecting on these experiences is crucial for establishing better sponsor relationships and project management approaches.

Evaluating and Improving Sponsor Support

Next, check if your organization offers any training and support for new sponsors. If consent is available, examine the information and make suggestions for improvement.

In cases where support does not exist, advocate for the development of resources and training by your PMO. Enhancing support mechanisms for sponsors can significantly impact the overall project performance.

Becoming a Desirable Project Manager for Sponsors

Finally, aim to become a project manager with whom great project sponsors want to work. Focus on delivering results that demonstrate your competence and commitment. Cultivating strong relationships with senior management and project stakeholders will also help you build a reputation as a reliable and effective project manager.

Maximizing Project Success through Effective Sponsor Engagement

As project managers, we often juggle numerous elements, from resource allocation to team dynamics. In this complex mix, the relationship with our project sponsor can sometimes take a backseat, mainly if they are less present or challenging to engage with.

However, the role of a project sponsor is pivotal, having the power to impede or elevate your project. Prioritizing and nurturing this critical relationship can enhance the chances of success for your project and contribute to delivering superior solutions for your organization

Remember, a well-engaged project sponsor is a formality and a strategic ally, essential for achieving and aligning your project goals with the broader corporate strategy and business objectives.

Embrace the opportunity to work closely with your sponsor, and you will find that your projects are more successful and rewarding for all parties involved.

Discover more about effective project management with BrightWork 365 and elevate your project success to new heights.

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This post was originally published in March 2021 and has been updated for accuracy, freshness, and comprehensiveness.

Shubhangi Pandey
Shubhangi Pandey

BrightWork Content Marketer

Shubhangi is a product marketing enthusiast, who enjoys testing and sharing the BrightWork 365 project portfolio management solution capabilities with Microsoft 365 users. You can see her take on the experience of the template-driven BrightWork 365 solution, its unique project management success approach, and other personalized services across the site and social channels. Beyond BrightWork, Shubhangi loves to hunt for the newest Chai Latte-serving café, where she can read and write for hours.

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