Your Role as a Project Sponsor

While teaching a project management workshop recently, we were discussing the roles and responsibilities of the project team. One of the participants raises the issue of disengaged Project Sponsors and understanding their roles. I am not sure how many Project Managers may have encountered this type of scenario, but I can tell you first-hand, this can be disastrous.

As a group, we began discussing some of our own experiences with respect to having a Project Sponsor who does not appear to be interested in our project or committed to our success. As you can imagine, there were a lot of experiences based on similar scenarios. Although we found ourselves diverging from the workshop curriculum, we found this topic both interesting and informative.

Impacts to the Project

We quickly came up with a list of potential impacts to the project, the team and the organization overall.

  • Delays in the project – lack of support from the Project Sponsor with respect to resource challenges, funding needs or other inter-departmental hurdles will result in delays to the project work.
  • Visibility – if the Project Sponsor is disengaged from the project this will impact the level of understanding of the project efforts in the C-Suite, and throughout the Organization, regardless of how well the project is going and the positive impact of the project deliverables.
  • Low morale of the project team – the absence of any positive feedback, comments or guidance from the Project Sponsor can be disheartening and discouraging to a project team which can quickly lead to a reduced level of commitment for the deliverable.

Although we certainly did not come up with one answer to resolve all of the issues associated with a disengaged Project Sponsor, we did find some themes to our discussion:

  1. Level of comfort – what happens if the Project Sponsor is not comfortable with the project? The project efforts, and activities, are outside of the expertise of the Project Sponsor – or, the Project Sponsor did not want to fill this role but was asked to do so by someone higher in the organization.
  2. Internal perception – the project may have been categorized as a “low priority” by the C-Suite. So, the Project Sponsor does not want to over commit to a project effort that has already be labeled as “low” on the importance scale.
  3. Lack of communication – many times the Project Manager, or the Project Team, may view a Project Sponsor as being disengaged when, in fact, the Project Sponsor thinks that they are fulfilling their role perfectly.

As a Project Manager and Project Team Member, I would like to suggest that we are in the position to pro-actively turn these scenarios around and, potentially, prevent them from happening in the future. Project Managers are discussing roles and responsibilities with Project Team Members at the kick-off meeting. Is the Project Sponsor in the room to hear what the responsibilities are for the various team members, including themselves? The Roles and Responsibilities document should also include the Project Sponsor and how that role can be critical to the success, or failure, of a project. Additionally, the Project Sponsor is in a position within the organization to have a better understanding of how this project will contribute to the overarching strategic plan. Therefore, any success with this project will roll right up to the organizational strategy and support of those strategic goals.

Establishing an Environment

As Project Team Members, let’s establish an environment that will enable our Project Sponsors to be as successful as we are. Here are some ideas on how we can make that happen:

  • Review the roles and responsibilities with the Project Sponsor and discuss how their contributions will make a difference to the overall project experience for the team and organization.
  • Encourage the Project Sponsor to attend meetings, ask questions, listen and learn.
  • Keep the Project Sponsor updated on project progress, successes and challenges. Ask the Project Sponsor how best to communicate with them so that we can ensure they are absorbing the message.
  • Reinforce the need for the Project Sponsor to share information about the project and the team with the C-Suite, and organization-wide, for visibility and alignment with the strategic goals.

If you are already acting in the role of a Project Sponsor, are you taking into consideration some of these observations from both Project Managers and Project Team Members?

Be the type of Project Sponsor that everyone wants to work for. You can do it.

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Mary Beth Imbarrato
Mary Beth Imbarrato