The Accidental Sponsor?

Randy EnglundMany executives are assigned as project sponsors, but their organizations do not spend time training and explaining their expected roles and responsibilities during project life cycles.   The accidental project manager role is well known, and the same applies to sponsors.

The sponsor role can have a tremendous impact on project success.  However, reality is quite different.  The sponsor role appears confused in many organizations.  Sometimes the sponsor is not very involved in the project.  On the other hand, sometimes the project sponsor is too involved and acts or tries to act as a super project manager, generating more conflict and problems.

Management support is always needed during the project life cycle.  In fact, the sentence: “we need more management support” is very common in most organizations.  In every project, the project manager and his/her team needs management support.  Each project needs a single sponsor.  In contrast, avoid multiple sponsors because that usually equals no sponsorship.  To give effective management support, managers need to know what is expected from them. Many sponsors do not know very much about the projects they are sponsoring, and no one has explained the meaning of project sponsorship to them.

Many organizations focus on the improvement of project management, the implementation of project management methodologies, and the development of a project management career path.  Few organizations are aware of how to develop the skills of their managers and top executives regarding the big influence they can have on project success.

Bob Graham and I target this audience with Creating an Environment for Successful Projects (2004).  Paul Dinsmore joined us to document how to implement the change to a project-based organization in Creating the Project Office (2003).  New work I did with Alfonso Bucero (2006) focuses on the role of project sponsors within guidelines established by the previous work.  The goal is to help generate excellence in project sponsorship.

Sponsorship means commitment to people in organizations.  Project sponsors are managers who are committed to active involvement throughout the project. These are professionals who meet regularly to track progress.  One basic characteristic of a good project sponsor is to be clear about the objective and at the same time be consistent, acting as a parachute for the project team.  Project sponsorship does not mean doing project planning or work directly.

Sponsorship means dealing with people.  The sponsor is both a supplier and protector of resources and the focal point of escalation for the project manager.  During the project life cycle, the sponsor acts as a high-level decision maker because he or she is usually more knowledgeable about the business context in which the project operates.

What experiences: good, bad and ugly: have you had with project sponsors?

Adapted from Project Sponsorship:  Achieving Management Commitment for Project Success by Englund and Bucero.
– Randy Englund,


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