Good sponsorship is the #1 driver of project success.[1] Yet fewer than 2 in 3 projects have actively engaged project sponsors.[2] With fewer than 40% of all projects successfully being completed on time, within budget, and to specification/requirements,[3] good project sponsors are needed more than ever.

How to Get Effective Project Sponsor Support

1. Make sure project sponsors understand how critical they are to project success.

Project failure is costing businesses $109 million for every $1 billion invested.[2] So show execs and sponsors the stats, broken down into dollars and cents, to convince them that they need to be an active part of project leadership — not just a passive observer of the project manager’s efforts and results.

2. Clarify the project sponsor's role & responsibilities.

Especially if they're new to the role, your project sponsor may not fully realize what’s expected of them, or what their relationship is to you as the project manager. And if they don't understand their role, there's no way they can fill it successfully. As Ron Rosenhead explains, the project sponsor's job is to monitor progress, help resolve issues, and champion the project to other executives — in general, to be the link between the project manager and higher-ups. A good sponsor smooths the way for timely decisions and access to resources so that the project manager can run the day-to-day without hitting a wall at every turn. But sponsors also maintain objectivity, keeping in mind the big picture of how the project fits into larger business goals and the overall direction of the company.

3. Meet regularly and establish good communication habits early on.

Effective project sponsor-to-project manager relationships are like any other: good communication is the key. Whether it's weekly, biweekly, or monthly, set a regular meeting schedule at the start of the project. At the very first meeting, discuss your goals for the project and what each of you will need from the other in order to meet those goals. Use this Project Sponsorship Checklist to guide your discussions and clarify exactly what each of you is expecting from the other.

4. Help garner organizational support for project sponsors.

85% of organizations that responded to Peter Taylor's management survey said they have project sponsors, but then 83% admitted they do nothing to support, train, or guide those sponsors.[4] The result is project sponsors in name only — sponsors who are unclear about how important they are to project success and how they can best contribute to that success. Unlike project managers, there are very few outside resources to help new project sponsors learn the best practices of their new role. Good project sponsorship needs to be a priority across the entire organization, including ongoing training and a proactive approach to sharing best practices and lessons learned. So highlight your project sponsor's contributions when reporting on project success and emphasize how further developing good project sponsors is in the entire organization's best interest.

Tips for Dealing with a Difficult Project Sponsor:

Whether your project sponsor has too many demands on her time, is having issues navigating shifting business objectives, or simply doesn't make your project a priority, here are a few tips you can use to engage a difficult project sponsor.
  • Communicate the effect on project success. Tell them, "This action (or inaction) is impacting the project in this way; these are our options for resolving it." Approach the conversation from the point of view that you both want the project to succeed and focus on how you can work together to achieve your shared goal.
  • Help sponsors understand that they're the ones either hindering or enabling your access to executive support, sufficient resources, etc., and therefore are just as accountable for the project's success as you are.
  • Look to the higher-ups. Knowing what your sponsor’s boss ultimately wants is the secret to keeping sponsors engaged and on your side. Remind your sponsor that your joint efforts will help keep their boss happy and reflect well on them.
What's your advice for working with project sponsors? Share your experiences with fellow project managers in the comments below. Then check out the collective wisdom of the #PMChat community on keys to effective stakeholder management.

Learn More About Project Management

If you're looking for more resources around project management, then check out The Project Management Guide for Beginners. It's an online guide that takes you through the fundamentals of PM in layman's terms and it's totally free to browse, and bookmark. The Project Management Guide for Beginners
1. PMI, Executive Sponsor Engagement: Top Driver of Project and Program Success. 2014
7., Strategies for Project Sponsorship – #PMHangout21