Five tips to become a more visible and proactive Project Sponsor
Why do we need visible and engaged Project Sponsors?
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. Therefore it should be no surprise that Project Sponsors often don’t know how to fulfil their role. Let’s see what you can do in order to be more visible and proactive in your Project Sponsor role.
I give you two examples from the spectrum of good and not so good Project Sponsors I have worked with in the past and show you how their behaviours and actions have impacted the project team and the project results:
First Example: Absent and disengaged Project Sponsor
In a large international project to roll out a new way of working we worked remotely, communication happened mainly via email and regular conference calls.
The main Project Sponsor was invisible to us as a project team, she rarely attended the regular project update calls she had initially set up. She did not respond to emails or contacts by phone, even when escalations or clarifications were necessary at Sponsor level.
Due to the lack of Project Sponsor engagement, the situation became desperate: although the programme had been started with a lot of enthusiasm and official announcements, funding for resources was not agreed and resources dropped off one after another. The project team was impacted by work overload, insecurity and lack of motivation. The project eventually stopped after more than 18 months and all project activities were discontinued, without having completed the implementation and definitely without achieving the benefits that were promised. The team that was initially excited and enthusiastic about the potential of the new way of working left the programme disillusioned and disappointed.
Second Example: Challenging and supportive Project Sponsor
A very different experience in a project, where we also introduced a new way of working in the field based workforce. Again a project over multiple sites, with a remote project management set-up.
Although the local Sponsor was not involved in the project detail and had little time to spare, he made sure he was available for the regular review meetings and helped the project team to remove road blocks, and also had some difficult conversations with senior managers who were not bought in. He was very engaged and a strong advocate of the project and the benefits it was set to achieve also beyond his local remit. He was challenging towards the project team, but also made sure that he gave praise and said thank you.
One situation I can remember is a photo shoot and interview for the employee magazine he had initiated, where we were presented with bottles of champagne as a thank you for achieving an ambitious milestone. I still have the clipping from the magazine! I can remember fun, satisfaction and motivation from my time on this project. Did I say that as a result from feeling appreciated and motivated, our local project team hit all milestones ahead of time and developed best practice approaches, which were adopted in the other local areas. It is still one of my fondest project memories, due to an engaged, visible and proactive Project Sponsor.
What does this mean for you?
From these examples you will have gathered how important it is to be a visible and proactive Project Sponsor in the context of a change programme. It is important for project team morale and to guarantee the success of the project. And it really does not take much to make a difference to the project team! Develop your own consistent approach and dedicate regular time for the project team and other Project Sponsor activities. Stand behind the benefits, be engaged and help when necessary!
My 5 top tips for Project Sponsors to be more visible and more proactive in the role
These are my 5 top tips for when you have just been landed with a project or change programme to sponsor. Pick one or two and you will already feel more in control. You will be on your way to becoming a more effective, more visible and more proactive Project Sponsor!
Agree some formal communications (e.g. in a Communication Plan) and also pick out 1 or 2 informal communication strategies for yourself. This could be to make the resolution to speak to one person impacted by the cange every day.
2. Level of involvement
Assess the capability of the Project Manager and the complexity of the project and agree how “hands-on” you need to be throughout the project. Your level of involvement can also change over the lifetime of the project, potentially as you have mentored the Project Manager so that accountabilities can be re-distributed – review regularly!
3. Challenge and support
Be available for the Project Manager and the project team, also outside the scheduled progress meetings. Really listen to their concerns, challenge their performance and offer your support. They will be thankful for your commitment and highly motivated.
4. Dedicated project time
Carve out time in your diary that you can dedicate to the project. Sometimes it is valuable to have some “project thinking time”. Why not schedule 1 hour into your diary every Friday to reflect on the project progress and prepare for any upcoming meetings?
5. Rules and boundaries
Discuss with the project team how you want to work together. This could range from an agreement on a regular meeting slot to discuss project related issues and progress to how you want to be contacted in emergencies or what decisions you are happy to delegate.
Are you putting some of these tips into practice yet?
Are there any activities or practices that you currently do not carry out in your role as Project Sponsor? Pick one of the practical activities you are currently NOT doing and implement it into the way you are doing things as a Project Sponsor.
Being a trustworthy advocate for the project team and fighting their corner is an important role a Project Sponsor has to play to enable successful project delivery. Can you see why you might have encountered project delays, demotivated project teams etc in the past? Are you putting some of the tips into practice yet?
Free E-mail Course
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!