As a project manager, your working relationship skills are just as essential as monitoring day-to-day responsibilities.
Your job involves establishing schedules, solving problems, and setting goals. But you must also manage dynamics between various stakeholders including team members, clients, and project sponsors — the latter being a lesser known but integral part of project success.
Learning the ins and outs of a project sponsor’s role can help foster a productive and collaborative relationship, ensuring smooth project execution and successful delivery.
What’s a project sponsor?
A project sponsor is typically someone in a senior management role responsible for championing a project’s development and ensuring its success. Depending on their industry, they may also carry the title of:
- Product sponsor
- Project director
- Account manager
- Business unit manager
This person plays several parts throughout the project life cycle. They begin by helping secure approval from the executive team through establishing a project’s business case, purpose, and governance guidelines. Once they gain the green light, sponsors liaise between project managers and the executive suite, ensuring the team receives the resources and support they need to produce their ideal results.
Sponsors may offer leadership and guidance when working groups face roadblocks. They also establish the project’s sustainability and return on investment (ROI) by aligning the desired outcomes with long-term strategic plans.
What does a project sponsor do?
Project sponsors are involved in all phases of project development, from initiation through closure. They’re responsible for essential functions within the project workflow, including the following.
1. Vision development and implementation
Sponsors ensure that desired project outcomes align with organizational goals, strategies, and objectives. During project initiation, they contribute to the following:
- Developing the project charter and scope, ensuring the initiative supports the organization’s long-term needs
- Defining the project’s critical success factors
- Adjusting project goals and requirements to maintain flexibility in evolving markets
One of the roles of a project sponsor is establishing favorable conditions for the team to promote a successful launch and execution. To support team members and workflows, sponsors:
- Select and mentor the project manager
- Act as the spokesperson to senior leadership, negotiating funding and resource allocation
- Provide regular updates and manage communications between the project team and upper management
- Define project roles and hierarchy
- Monitor project scope and limitations
- Guide managers using background knowledge and expertise to support problem-solving efforts
3. Value and benefit definition
Successful project sponsorship ensures quality results by helping teams manage risks and maximize ROI. To accomplish this, project sponsors:
- Communicate the project’s value to senior management to secure project buy-in and support
- Review requests for management adjustments to ensure alignment with project and organizational goals
- Assist with risk-management and mitigation efforts
- Review project processes and oversee work quality
- Approve deliverables
Sponsor responsibilities in each project phase
To fulfill these various duties, the sponsor is an active participant at each stage of the life cycle. Here’s a breakdown of their tasks during every project phase.
During the initiation phase, the project sponsor’s responsibilities involve setting the team up for success by:
- Establishing that the project will promote strategic objectives
- Selecting the project manager and determining their authority level
- Providing input into the project charter and contributing to foundational decisions
- Defining success metrics for the team
Once in the planning phase, the sponsor oversees the project plan’s development to ensure it includes realistic goals, timelines, and desired outcomes. Additional sponsorship responsibilities include:
- Addressing and resolving any issues outside project management’s scope
- Coordinating other project teams’ activities to ensure cohesion
- Identifying and eliminating interdependencies that negatively impact cross-functional team progress
The project manager and sponsor work closely together throughout the execution phase. Understanding each other’s roles helps these two avoid crossing boundaries. Sponsorship responsibilities during this stage involve:
- Measuring progress based on the project plan to ensure work is on track
- Anticipating potential conflicts and roadblocks
- Establishing protocols and empowering the team to work autonomously
- Celebrating milestones with team members
Sponsors play a vital role in a project’s closing procedure. When work concludes, they’re involved with:
- Ensuring that handoffs meet quality criteria and signoffs follow established processes
- Participating in the project retrospective meeting to evaluate team performance and determine success
- Documenting lessons learned and adding them to organizational records
How to effectively work with a project sponsor: 5 tips
The dynamic you build with a sponsor plays into a project’s degree of success. Your relationship requires clear expectations, regular communication, and mutual trust. Follow these tips to ensure productive interactions with your project sponsor.
1. Facilitate regular internal communication
Create a communication plan defining channels and check-in frequency, and determine how and when you’ll update your team and project sponsor. Posting regular status reports reinforces goal alignment and encourages open dialogue between different project teams while maintaining the flow of information to your sponsor.
2. Build transparency
Since the sponsor isn’t involved in daily activities, they could easily lose track of where a project stands. Grant them access to your management tools so they can keep pace with the team. This constant progress visibility encourages trust and effective collaboration.
3. Maintain flexibility
Project sponsors have specific goals in mind for your work, but these can change due to marketplace challenges or evolving customer needs. Be prepared to adjust the project scope and remain receptive to your sponsor’s requests — alterations to your plan are typically reactions to factors beyond their control.
4. Request input
Maintain a positive relationship by inviting insights and advice. It’s especially vital to involve sponsors when considering large-scale changes such as staffing, technology, or timeline constraints since they’re in a supervisory position.
5. Leverage collaboration tools
Communication platforms let you share project timelines, status reports, and workflows in one location, serving as a centralized hub that helps team members track their tasks and deadlines. Having one reliable communication channel lets sponsors easily oversee progress and encourages trust and visibility.
Engage sponsors with Roadmunk by Tempo
Keeping your project sponsor in the loop is simple with IT templates, product roadmaps, and project management frameworks from Roadmunk by Tempo. Roadmunk’s audience-friendly roadmaps let you prioritize and manage your team’s tasks. With effective collaboration, you and your project sponsor can support organizational strategies, visualize roadblocks, and encourage team cohesion.