The Role of Project Sponsors

Businesses undertake projects to create and enhance their systems, products and services; however, most projects fail to some degree – 64% according to a recent survey by the Project Management Institute (PMI).

To increase the chances that projects will be successful organisations should choose senior executives to act as the project’s sponsors. The best sponsors demonstrate a keen interest in the successful completion of the project. They are recognised as leaders of change in the organisation.

For every stage of a project, there are critical executive sponsor behaviours that can make the difference between success and failure of a project.

At the conception of the project, successful sponsors will ensure that advantages to the business are clearly explained and fully understood by the executive team and the project manager.

The sponsor will also make sure that the project manager knows which phases of the project are essential and which aspects can be delayed. The project sponsor should function as a coach by explaining how the project fits into the big picture, setting the performance standards and supporting the project manager with setting priorities.  The project manager and team will set project goals that align with the vision and the broader corporate goals.

Setting performance criteria can be achieved in the project charter by stating goals about the project’s strategic importance and how it will be measured. Therefore the sponsor and the project manager need to develop a clear understanding of expectations for the project deliverables.

Effective sponsor–project manager partnerships require a great deal of open communication, especially during the project’s early phases. Later the discussions can take place less frequently and be less specific.

Sponsors should ensure that all stakeholders are identified and create an environment that is conducive to effective communication between project teams and stakeholders. The project sponsor should maintain effective communication and ensure that the project’s customers are satisfied with the project deliverables.

 In establishing priorities, the most compelling questions are:

  1. what needs to happen first? 
  2. And how should disagreements be settled?

An experienced project sponsor will address these questions both at the organisational and project level.

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