3

According to PMHut, the primary responsibilities of the project sponsor are as follows:

  • Be chief champion of the project
  • Have accountability for the project and ongoing accountability for the outcomes
  • Chair the project steering committee
  • Advocate the project internally and externally
  • Facilitate and support policy and funding recommendations
  • Provide overview and direction for the project
  • Resolve issues identified by the project manager when requested (and agreed)
  • Support the project manager in carrying out the project
  • Monitor the project budget
  • Monitor project risk
  • Ensure that deliberations of the project are adequately recorded and available to appropriate parties

How would you handle a project sponsor who takes a "just let me know when it's done" approach to sponsoring a project?

2

Weak project sponsorship is a source of rather significant risk for project success. It is noted as one of the nine critical success factors of organizational change. I differ from Pawel's answer in that acceptance is not an option, in my opinion. The risk of project failure or serious compromise must be escalated and actively mitigated to the bitter end. I would also work various contingencies, i.e., facilitate sort of pseudo sponsorship activities where I might be able to promote the appearance of strong sponsorship. One idea might be scheduling some type of town hall meeting where the identified sponsor is a key note speaker.

At some point, the PM ought to be able to determine that failure is imminent and can escalate the exception where the sponsor needs to make a critical decision. While this is easier written than done, the PM needs to stop work and force a sit down. I see this as the highest example of true professionalism.

1

Actually this is kind of extensive list and not every project would look the same. If you think about agile projects, well, forget steering committee, etc.

Anyway, the PM job definition I once heard I like a lot is: "PM responsibility is to get to job done." Sure PM doesn't make it all with their own hands but they try to coordinate everyone's effort so the final result is satisfactory when compared with success criteria (whatever they might be).

From the perspective of such definition PM can basically use one of a couple of approaches to inactive sponsor, or a mix of them.

  • Fight with it. When PM needs something from the sponsor they ask, beg, threaten, bribe, convince or whatever it takes to get it. It's like overcoming sponsor's inactivity. When they don't act whatsoever by themselves let PM force them to act. This approach, if applied successfully may change inactive sponsor into an active one. But then remember: be careful what you ask for, because you might actually get it and sponsor's activity might not be exactly kind of behavior PM would expect.

  • Accept it. When PM potentially needs something from the sponsor they look for any other path which leads to the same result: getting information from someone else, finding other people with enough authority to make the call, making decision by themselves and asking for forgiveness instead of permission etc. Pretty often no one would even notice. Having said that it can be somewhat risky - if the end of the project is marked with a failure and blame game starts, guess who will be the first target.

And then of course there are all kind of mixtures of those, like using the latter in most cases and retreating to former when there's no other choice or potential consequences of choosing poorly are very high.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.