Don't forget the project sponsor

When discussing the critical elements to having a successful project we tend to focus on the project manager and their role. Although a strong project manager is important to the success of a project, we shouldn’t diminish the importance of a highly involved Executive Sponsor. The Executive Sponsor plays arguably the most important role in a project’s success or failure.

Photo by Jehyun Sung

Ownership of the final product

The Executive Sponsor is the ultimate decision-maker and is typically a high ranking manager or official within the organization. A common misconception of the role of an Executive Sponsor is to report updates from the project manager throughout an organization. The reality is that the Executive Sponsor plays a highly active role throughout the life-cycle of a project and is the owner of the final product. They should be involved with assisting the project manager in defining the scope, timeline, and resource needs of the project as well as managing the actions to be taken when issues arise.

Keeping the project on schedule

The Executive Sponsor is highly involved in ensuring the project stays on schedule. The accountability cannot and should not be left solely on the shoulders of the project manager. The Executive Sponsor and project manager should meet frequently, at least bi-weekly, to officially review the projectand project manager should meet frequently, at least bi-weekly, to officially review the project timelines, milestones, and open issues. This should not, however, be the extent of the communication of project status and issues between the two parties. The Executive Sponsor must ensure they are readily available to meet with the project manager, and other key team members, to ensure timely decisions are made and action taken.

Leading the political charge

The Executive Sponsor needs to lead the political charge within the organization. The project manager will need the assistance of the Executive Sponsor to provide support in ensuring resources are not pulled in other directions, arbitrate and resolve conflicts, and provide project results to the organization. The Executive Sponsor is in a more suitable position to represent the position of a project and its team to outside parties. This will allow the project manager and the project team to stay focused on their specific tasks without getting caught up in high level discussions that the Executive Sponsor can handle.

The role of an Executive Sponsor can often be undervalued. It is a position that is extremely

important to determining the outcome of a project. Strong leadership, communication, and

organization are just a few of the skills needed to be an effective Executive Sponsor. But even more important is how engaged and active the Executive Sponsor is with the project throughout its lifecycle.