There has been a lot of interesting discussion on the roles and responsibilities of the project sponsor in LinkedIn groups such as Project Sponsors. There does not seem to be a common understanding on what a sponsor’s responsibilities are, or even if a sponsor is required for a project. This leads to the question – can there be project without a sponsor?
This would be the same as asking ‘can there be a television program without an advertiser or other funding’, ‘can there be foreign exchange student without a sponsor/host family’, ‘can there be sports team without a sponsor to help organize and get uniforms and equipment’? A project (television program, exchange student, or sports team) cannot exist if it does not have some who cares enough to give or raise money, get excited and brag about benefits and accomplishments, or be willing to work to help overcome obstacles. I concede that there may be a project, but it will be a project with very high risks. A project I would not choose to manage.
Do projects need a sponsor? Yes. Do project sponsors know how to support their projects? Ah…now we are on to something.
Here is a two-part challenge for you. First, do a web search on “project sponsor” “job description”. Go ahead. I’ll wait for you…
How many jobs did you find? My search resulted in many articles like this one as well as job descriptions that included working with project sponsors. Not so much on the job postings for project sponsors. Now try “project sponsor” curriculum. Did you find any college level courses in project sponsorship? Well I did find one single day program targeted to sponsors. I was very excited about that until I noticed they had no current course offerings on their calendar. Your sponsor is not likely to know what is needed to be an effective sponsor. Project Sponsor was something they were assigned or took on as responsibility of their job, but is not the job they studied for. This is where he needs your guidance.
You are likely reading this article because you are interested in project management. You likely have experience and have education in managing projects, or plan on pursuing it. You are actively choosing to explore the project sponsor role in support of the project you manage. What title does your project sponsor hold with the organization? How did he get to be a sponsor? Did his career path include any formal experience or education in managing projects? Hopefully, this line of thinking puts your understanding in a different light.
Congratulations if you are a project sponsor reading this post! You have taken a great step to becoming a top rate sponsor and providing the support your project needs to be successful.
It is our job as project managers to communicate the needs of the project to our sponsors. I developed the following list of sponsor responsibilities by considering the Project Management Body of Knowledge definition and the examples of non-project sponsor examples above.
- Establish guidelines
- Provide mentorship and guidance
- Approve content, service, and/or image of the project
- Contribute in selecting high visibility/impact resources
- Champion the project
- Accept legal and financial responsibility
- Provide funding, supplies, or space as agreed to and needed to support the project
- Work to resolve issues between project/team, providers, others
- Withhold or withdraw funding if the sponsored is not meeting obligations or agreements
Well, it is a good start anyway. What do you think?
This article does not address the issues of the wrong sponsor assigned or the stubborn sponsor who does not buy in to the importance of these responsibilities. I will save those for another day.
Image: Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net