The role of the project sponsor is key in the success of a project. The sponsor must ensure the alignment of the project with the strategy of the organization, he must champion the project in front of other senior managers and provide ongoing direction as the project evolves. And his responsibility does not end when the project finishes; he must also ensure that the client makes effective use of the project deliverables to achieve the results planned in the business case.
So the role of the project sponsor is strategic; she must be an enabler to create the conditions for the project team to work successfully and let the project manager the day-to-day execution.
However, many times project sponsors do not have the skills, the experience or just the awareness of their duties regarding the project and how they can affect its final outcome. What can we do as project managers to:
- detect this risk for the project
- help the sponsor to fulfil his/her obligations
Find out sponsor’s expectations on the project
In a subtle way, a communications and risk assessment strategy con be prepared so that the PM can adapt his/her approach and communication methods to obtain the maximum support from the sponsor. An effective approach is to ask open questions to the sponsor in your first meeting with him, like: ‘What are your expectations for this project? What kind of risks would you consider? What is the level of priority of this project in your strategy? This kind of approach will allow you to learn more than by asking closed and very focused questions.
Early discovery of the sponsor capabilities and capacities
During the first meetings with the sponsor it is important also to assess his capabilities regarding this role and also his capacity to assume the workload that it involves. It is common that sponsors are very busy executives who have a full time ordinary activity and the sponsorship of a project is something added to their usual job.
Moreover the interest in the project by the sponsor is critical an should not be taken for granted. Sometimes there are sponsors who are assigned to a project just because there must be a sponsor or because the project outcome is somehow related with their function. This situation will affect the project day-to-day and the involvement of the sponsor in the project.
The sooner the situation is detected the earlier the project manager can start preparing a plan to manage the risks. One possible option is helping the sponsor build his/her sponsorship competencies by framing possible solutions to the problems you escalate and explain the options.
The Project Sponsor as a facilitator
Finally, it is important to confirm that the sponsor understands that he should not interfere in the day-to-day of the project. The project manager is responsible for this. The sponsor would better be a facilitator that helps the project manager and provides the necessary organizational support needed to make strategic decisions and create a successful outcome from the project.
What is your experience? Have you ever had to deal with a difficult sponsor? What was your strategy?