There’s been tremendous focus in the last few years on the importance of project sponsorship. It is well understood that while a strong sponsor can help the team to navigate perilous political waters and be the committed champion required for project success, a weak one will have difficulty supporting all but the least complex initiatives.
While I’ve heard my fair share of complaints from project managers about the effectiveness of their sponsors, I’ve received almost as much feedback from sponsors about the challenges they are facing with their project managers.
So what can you do for your sponsor?
Follow the Goldilocks principle for sponsor engagement
Involve your sponsor too little, and they are either going to get disengaged if they are not fully committed to the project’s success or they will become concerned and may start micromanaging by inserting themselves into routine activities which don’t require their involvement. No project manager is an island – know the right time to pull them in to help your resolve situations which can’t be fixed by you & your team alone. But consume too much of your sponsor’s time and they are likely to let you know pretty quickly that they are not your babysitter.
Know your role
Higher maturity organizations invest in sponsor onboarding but you can help to reinforce that learning by ensuring your sponsor is fully aware of their responsibilities. While this might be defined in your organization’s policies or methodology, if not, taking the time to develop & document rules of engagement with your sponsor early in the life of the project will ensure that you don’t overstep your decision-making boundaries, and if you get into a situation where the sponsor is overstepping theirs, you’ll have something to refer them back to.
Show me the money!
Avoid technobabble and frame your communications, decisions and escalations in business terms. The right way to generate the true sense of urgency required to drive sponsor engagement is by focusing on the impacts to the project’s expected benefits realization.
A good sponsor is like an iceberg – the efforts they are taking to drive successful outcomes may not always be visible. And remember, they have other accountabilities beyond your project. The last thing you want to do is to make them waste their time by having to regularly follow up with you because you have missed a commitment or have not been responsive.
Sponsors are critical to project success but never forget that it takes two to tango!