Project Practitioners > Developing Project Sponsors

Developing Project Sponsors

By Randy Englund

A universal objective is to achieve better results from project-based work. Excellence in sponsorship as a major role in optimizing outcomes is a fervent belief held by colleague Alfonso Bucero, myself, and many others. Sponsor performance on many projects, however, is a very different story. A recurring concern we hear world-wide is that upper managers do not fully understand and support the project management process. PMs need to take the initiative, integrating leadership with management skills, to achieve commitments from key stakeholders and elicit sustained support from them throughout project and program life cycles.

A sponsor initiates, funds, and supports the project from inception through completion and on throughout the project outcome life cycle. Proactive sponsorship is the ideal. Selecting the right sponsors, clarifying roles, making the commitment, and getting appropriate training are steps along the path. Managers acting as project sponsors need to spend time with every project team member, dealing with misunderstandings and varying perceptions. Sustaining energy is also required.

Many sponsorship roles may accrue, be cast on, or come from enlightened persons who find creative ways to express leadership and make a contribution. A key obligation of a sponsor is to create the right environment for project success. Mentoring accelerates this process; in fact, coaching and mentoring are desired characteristics of a good sponsor, both as givers and receivers. Achieving excellence in sponsorship means that senior managers get to maintain a hands-off approach but are available when problems come up.

Success starts with a strong commitment to improve. Leaders become better prepared as sponsors of major projects by taking inventory of their talents, skills, and behaviors and putting appropriate action plans in place. Knowledge management encompasses an ascent from data to information to knowledge and wisdom. Reaching the top of a stairway represents enlightenment—eyes are fully open about why, what, and how to invoke excellence in project sponsorship. We urge project leaders to take action and manage up the organization—your initiative to educate sponsors contributes to both a better working environment and an opportunity for positive visibility.

Open-door-stepsAn objective for our work as authors and workshop facilitators is to unlock and open doors that lead to more effective sponsorship performance. Those doors may currently be slightly ajar and that is okay. Or you may need to kick or fling them open and traverse a new pathway. Whether you are an aspiring sponsor or a project manager desiring to become more complete, you have choices: ignore the opportunities an open door represents, approach it cautiously, or pass through it eagerly. If you stand before an open door, you can spend time and energy on non-value-adding activities—or embrace sponsor and management commitments that achieve greater project success.

In Project Sponsorship: Achieving Management Commitment for Project Success, Second Edition, we offer a mind map and a stairway to excellence. These are quick reference guides. Apply checklists, questionnaires, and templates or modify them for specific situations.
Project Sponsorship Cover v5 cropped
Executives need training, experience, and practice to be effective sponsors. Sponsorship is a required and critical success factor for all projects, in all industries and disciplines. Take action to achieve commitments from these key stakeholders; be ever mindful to ensure sustained support from them throughout project and program life cycles. A complete project manager integrates influence skills of persuasion, negotiating, and selling. Factor in authentic behaviors, integrity in all matters, and skills in managing up the organization--then personal, team, and organizational effectiveness climbs higher. We believe improving sponsorship roles and actions will reap tremendous results in all organizations. Please join with us to "dream" of such a world and make it happen. Let us know if this approach works for you and if we can help on the journey. Move forward, because every day is a good day for change. Best wishes on all your projects!

Randall L. Englund, Englund Project Management Consultancy,


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