Secrets to a Finding a Powerful and Savvy Sponsor for your Project

Whether you are the manager, sponsor, stakeholder, project manager there are key questions and roles that you contribute to success of your projects and programs. When I ask other project managers, what is key to effectiveness of delivering projects and ensuring success one of the frequent top items is the sponsor. Developing a good sponsor is not an accident, it is a function of the program or project manager’s relationship behavior. As the project manager, it is key to take control and drive that relationship for the sake of delivering a project with high payoff results

Sponsors often get asked to sponsor a project and think it will be good visibility and underestimate the time commitment it requires. The more communication early with them to establish expectations, working relationships and protocol is important. They may be up for late night calls, weekend consultation, fighting battles with vendor or management to get necessary decisions made. It is so critical to emphasize this and make sure proper time and commitment is there from the sponsor. In my opinion, a project is dead early without an empowered sponsor who is committed to the project and believes in the results outlined. The signs to watch for are that they are respected, champion the project, communicate the sense of urgency and have a strong bias for action. Don’t under estimate this, and if you see the signs have a conversation early on what you and the project need. The sponsor is there to help you as the project manager achieve desired results! Make sure they are committed to the journey.

Here is my list of what I use to sit down with sponsor and explain what will be needed from them and types of subjects I will work with them on. It creates a good list for a constructive conversation. When I have skipped past this thinking my sponsor is behind the team, it comes up later forcing this topic to be addressed so I advise take the time do it early. If you are down the road in your project and struggle with support, take the time to do this anyway and explain the reasons why.

Responsibilities/ Expectations of Project Sponsor:

· Champions the project, provides overall direction and funding, and approves all major milestones.

· Sets the vision, common goals and critical success factors

· Helps project manager understand full business context of environment and project decisions

· Establishes or secures policy

· Attends regular program reviews

· Establishes the authorities of the project team and stakeholders

· Approves the charter and scope of the project including deliverables

· Challenges assumptions, plays devils advocate to develop other alternatives

· Sets priority of the project relative to other projects in her/his area

· Ensures that resources are available to carry the project to its completion

· Removes obstacles or other constraints that are beyond control of PM

· Keeps other managers from interfering with progress, controlling scope and protects the team so results are delivered

· Authorizes changes in scope

· Works with senior management to provide updates or asks for help on issues beyond the control of the sponsor

As a program manager, you are usually driving innovation that drives change. This challenges people in the team and impacted groups in many different ways. The term I often use is “Pain of change” for that transition period. There is that small percentage that are highly adaptable and ready for anything but there are always those that do not want to learn or do anything different. Managing all types of people, managing the cultural change, managing the technical and most importantly delivering the defined project outcomes is what delivers high payoff projects.

In some cases, you may just be starting a program and asking how do I find a sponsor and build this partnership for success. Even if you embarked on your project without finding a sponsor, it is never to late to make this change and it will always help to have that advocate. Here are some questions that can help you navigate finding the right person to be the sponsor.

· Who has the financial backing to be a sponsor for this project?

· Who has the political influence in the organization to be a sponsor?

· Who has a history of having their initiatives implemented?

· Will the person defend the project should it run into problems or begin to lose organizational support?

· As the project manager, with whom would you have a good working relationship?

· Who will provide the project direction and focus but at the same time, ensure the project is being accomplished according to the plan?

· Who it the end result will take ownership in the resulting product of your work and would therefore have a vested interest in its successful operation?

Once you find that sponsor start immediately to build that relationship. Make sure lines of communication are open and timely with any information. Investing your time managing relationship with your sponsor is critical for your personal effectiveness and for the team success. These crucial conversations must be driven so take responsibility to make it happen. Good luck!


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