Formalise your role as Project Sponsor to avoid ambiguity and frustration
Do organisations need a new role in the org structure?
I recently got challenged: “So you want to approach organisations and suggest to them, they need to introduce the new role of a “Project Sponsor”? I have never heard that a role like this exists in the org structure!”
Now I was baffled! For me with over 15 years of Change and Project Management experience with different organisations in different sectors, the role of a Project Sponsor is crucial for the success of a project.
This is exactly the challenge we are facing! On the one hand, the Top 1 quoted reason why projects fail is the lack of proactive and visible project sponsorship (PROSCI Benchmarking Report 2014). On the other hand, there isn’t even a recognition for the need of the role of a Project Sponsor in organisations!
We’ve got our work cut out!
Project teams have high expectations towards their Project Sponsors, the role of a Project Sponsor is complex and yet, there is hardly any literature, let alone training or coaching programmes for Project Sponsors to learn about their role. Often very senior (and therefore very busy) people in organisations have to carry out this crucial role, which is little understood and hardly ever formalised. This leads to misunderstandings, unfulfilled expectations and frustrations and the implications are, that the project delivery suffers.
So, what is a Project Sponsor?
This is a complex question and of course “it depends”! The role of a Project Sponsor could be very different depending on the circumstances (e.g. strategically important project, high exposure, very political, inexperienced project team, …). But let me give you my understanding of the role:
Sometimes also called “Executive Sponsor” or “Decision Executive”, a Project Sponsor is usually a senior person in an organisation, who instigates and finances a project in an organisation. This person is also responsible for the business case (what benefits are expected) and supports the project team who delivers the project throughout the lifecycle with any political issues and roadblocks.
As a member of the project steering board, it’s the person the project team is reporting to and who gives guidance, but also keeps them on track. The Project Sponsor is also an advocate for the project amongst the senior management team. Crucial is also ongoing formal and informal communication to everyone impacted by the change. Usually, a Project Sponsor has a certain “standing” in the organisation and commands respect. The Project Sponsor operates at a much higher organisational level than the Project Manager. The Project Manager deals with the day-to-day operational management of the project.
My conviction is that the role of a Project Sponsor is the most important role in any change programme. Yet it is probably the least understood in a project management context and least supported in terms of training and coaching support.
When is a Project Sponsor needed?
Project Sponsors support projects in all sectors, in small and medium enterprises and in large corporates. A Project Sponsor could be supporting an internal systems implementation or a highly visible strategy project, a cost cutting exercise or a growth project. If there is a project, there should be a Project Sponsor!
So what to do?
Redefining your role and activities as Project Sponsor – formalise your role to avoid ambiguity and frustration!
The reason for formalising your role as Project Sponsor is to remove uncertainty for you and the project team, get rid of unspoken assumptions and therefore stress amongst the project team going forward. You will have a basis on which to engage with your Project Manager and agree clearly the roles and responsibilities (and activities) that both of you will carry out going forward. No more room for ambiguity and frustration on both sides. Also, you formally commit to activities and behaviours, which will help you to better manage your own tasks and commitments.
Take on the challenge!
If you want to take on a challenge today, define your role as Project Sponsor as you understand it. If you want to go one step further, involve your Project Manager and the project team to ask for their expectations. You can claim your Role Description Template here. The role of a Project Sponsor is very complex. Therefore, stay quite high level when writing your role description. Don’t get lost in the detail.
In order to help you with the completion of the Role Descritption Template, ask yourself the following questions to trigger some thoughts:
1: What do you think are the key activities and behaviours that make a Project Sponsor successful? And which ones should you exhibit in your specific circumstances?
2: How do you feel as a Project Sponsor in your organisation? How would you like to shape your role? What are your needs and wishes regarding the role? What do you personally want to get out of the role?
[The worksheet template and reflective questions stem from my Online Course: “Setting the Project Sponsor up for Success”.]
The first step to becoming a more effective Project Sponsor, in my opinion, is to get clarity around and to articulate what it is you are expected to do in your role.
- PROSCI Inc. (2014 Edition). Best Practices in Change Management. PROSCI Benchmarking Report. Publisher: PROSCI Inc.
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This Blog article is part of my free E-mail Course “5 Powerful Strategies to become a more effective Project Sponsor”. If you are not already in, sign up for the free E-mail Course!