One of the first things that you will be keen to find out on any new project is who the project sponsor will be. It makes a huge difference. A ‘good’ sponsor will help you steer the project to success. A ‘bad’ sponsor won’t turn up to meetings, won’t make decisions and will generally act as if they don’t care. The working relationship between project sponsor and project manager is a critical one for the project and the team overall, so it is important that you find a way to work professionally with them, even if you don’t much like them on a personal level.
But personality aside, what exactly should you expect from your sponsor? They may temporarily be acting as your boss, but what is their side of the deal during the project? Here are 10 things that you should expect from your project sponsor.
10 Things that You Shuld Expect from a Project Sponsor
1. A Project Sponsor Should Own the Project
The main thing that the project sponsor should do is to represent the project at a senior level. One of their key roles is to champion the project amongst the ranks of senior management so that everyone knows how important it is. The sponsor owns the project and takes overall responsibility for its success.
2. A Project Sponsor Should Own the Resources
The sponsor should also own the resources, or at least be capable of authorizing resources for you. If you need more money or people (and can justify why) they should be able to get hold of them. A sponsor who has to beg for resources is likely to be ineffective as they won’t be able to approve expenditure or secure more team members for you.
3. A Project Sponsor Should be Good at Communicating
Another critical role of a sponsor is to communicate. That goes for during meetings with senior executives but also with the project team. A sponsor who hides in the office and doesn’t mingle with the team is not going to inspire them to do their best work. The sponsor doesn’t have to attend every meeting (in fact, you wouldn’t want them to), but they should be capable of communicating at all levels and confident to put their name to project communications.
4. A Project Sponsor Should be Able to Make Decisions
If your sponsor needs to talk to someone else before he or she can make a decision, then you have the wrong sponsor for your project. Your sponsor should be able to make binding decisions. They may ask you to provide a recommendation or some options to choose from, but their decision needs to be final.
5. A Project Sponsor Should Have an Overall Perspective
One of the benefits of having a project sponsor is that they should have an overall view of what is happening in the company. As you pass information about the project up to them, they should be passing information down to you about anything that may have an impact on the project. This could be key members of staff leaving, changes in organizational strategy, new policies or anything that could affect your project. If they don’t have this view, they can’t protect the project from changes happening elsewhere.
6. A Project Sponsor Should Offer Advice
Most of the time you’ll be providing information and advice to your sponsor so that they can make decisions. But sometimes you’ll need to ask them for help. A good sponsor should be able to provide advice in a constructive way and act as a mentor if you need them to.
7. A Project Sponsor Should Chair the Project Board
A practical role for the sponsor is to chair the Project Board. This is a meeting of the senior project team members such as a supplier representative, a customer representative, the project manager and the sponsor. It is a decision-making group that also provides some oversight and checks that the project is on track. Typically Project Boards meet monthly, so having the sponsor chair this meeting (even if you organize it, provide the agenda and take the minutes) is not too much to ask.
8. A Project Sponsor Should Want the End Product
If your project sponsor does not have a vested interest in the end product they could soon lose focus. Ideally your sponsor should be the person who will use the end product, so they should be able to clearly see the benefit of it and support the project through to completion so that they get the deliverables they want.
9. A Project Sponsor Should Deal with the Politics
Project managers have to deal with a lot of office politics, but sponsors do as well. It is best to work with a sponsor who has some skill in negotiating office politics, as you’ll need that in some companies to get through the minefield of securing resources and investment. If a conflict situation gets too tricky for you to handle, you should be able to wheel out your project sponsor to fight the corner on your behalf.
10. A Project Sponsor Should ask ‘What Do You Need From Me?’
Finally, a project sponsor should be open to the fact that they don’t know everything. A sponsor who knows that the project manager is the expert and is capable of managing the project on a day to day basis is a great asset to a project, and very easy to work with! They should trust that you will ask them to get involved as required, for anything that falls outside of their normal responsibilities. Don’t be afraid to ask your sponsor for help, as it really is in their interest to support you to the best of their ability so that the project is managed and completed successfully.
If your project sponsor doesn’t act in ways you would expect, talk to them. It may simply be that they have never been a project sponsor before and they don’t really know what is expected of them. You can use this list as a starting point for a discussion with them about the role of the sponsor, so that you both know what to expect from the relationship and the project benefits from strong leadership at every level.