Over the last 20 years I have worked on a whole range of projects – both big and small – with a range of brilliant people. I have been fortunate enough to work in some really well structured organisations with clear processes and roles, and consequently very well-run projects (although I must confess to not always realising this at the time!). However, I have also seen projects that haven’t been run so well. I am a big believer that there should be a clear definition of roles and responsibilities to reduce uncertainty and maximise efficiency, and in some projects this isn’t there.

I learnt from a wise colleague many years ago that the Sponsor is an incredibly important role and is key throughout a project to support successful delivery and help overcome challenges.

Simplistically, the Sponsor is there to ensure the project succeeds. They make decisions and can be ‘used’ for escalation, to help unblock issues and barriers, and fundamentally to support the Project and/or Change Lead to deliver the goals of the project. They must therefore be at the correct level of the organisation, with the appropriate level of authority, and be available to the team when needed. In turn, the Project and Change Lead shouldn’t try to over-use the Sponsor, but instead update them with key information and call on them when appropriate to keep things moving.

In order to fully maximise the value of this role, it is important to understand whether the Sponsor fully appreciates what they are there to do, both in terms of understanding the scope of their responsibilities and possessing the knowledge to carry them out. It seems that often the Sponsor is expected to understand their role without anyone explicitly telling them.

I have witnessed too many projects without a clear Sponsor flounder and fail. Whereas when the role has been properly utilised, I have seen some exceptionally beneficial outputs, particularly in change projects and programmes. In fact, research conducted by Prosci1 shows that project teams generally state executive sponsorship to be the greatest contributor to success when managing change. However, on the flip side, the same research showed that nearly 50% of project teams marked the effectiveness of their Sponsor as poor to fair – so there is definitely work to do to improve this.

I appreciate there is a lot to think about when you start a project, but my advice would be to make sure you know who your Sponsor is and make sure they know it too!! Spend time making sure you both understand the role they will be undertaking and building a strong relationship with them, so they can help you when needed. Involving the Sponsor right from the start pays huge dividends. The role is as important as that of the Project Manager. Having the right Sponsor in place from the outset can shave weeks off the project’s timeline.

Taking the time to clarify the role of the Sponsor will pay significant dividends. If you need help, our Kwatee team has expertise in supporting these discussions and in enabling your business to extract the very best from this key role. Contact us for a chat today.

1. https://blog.prosci.com/3-reasons-executives-fail-at-sponsorship

Liz Brown,