Project Sponsor Role – Video

The project sponsor role is the most important one. It’s more important than the project manager or project team member or project stakeholder. Why is the sponsor role so important? Because of the accountabilities that go along with it. These are:
  1. Set the goal of the project in measurable terms with acceptance criteria
  2. Secure funding from the organization for the project
  3. Secure the organization’s approval to proceed with the project and expend people and financial resources
  4. Approve the project plan and then approve any changes to that plan.

However, in many organizations the role of the sponsor is not clearly defined and executives who start projects are not held accountable for the results. This project sponsor failure is what accounts for organizations that have 70% of their projects fail.

Getting Executives to Fulfill the Project Sponsor Role

Oftentimes one of the biggest challenges on a project is getting the project sponsor role played properly.  What the sponsor is supposed to do is issue a statement of work defining the business result the project should produce. Then the sponsor should get organizational approval to use resources to get the project done. Later in planning, the sponsor should work with the projecproject sponsor rolet manager and some of the stakeholders to define the high-level requirements. Those are the roles the sponsor should play during planning. Project Sponsor Main Page

Now let’s talk about a situation that happens all too frequently. The sponsor requested movement on an initiative without any clear scope or deliverables. Instead, he wanted the project manager to assess the initiative’s performance and provide him with a clear understanding of the performance measurement/reporting implications surrounding the initiative. No background information was provided and the project manager’s attempts to have a meeting to discuss his needs were met with avoidance and delay tactics. Instead, the sponsor insisted that the project manager be held accountable for meeting the undefined deliverables.

The project manager was requested to provide 2-3 scenarios: “the Ferari, the Cadillac and the Toyota Corolla” options to meet the initiative’s performance monitoring requirements. No opportunity was provided to clarify expectations. To the project manager, this request violated all the best practices about good project management and was a recipe for project failure. 

In the end, the work was not completed because the sponsor did not make themselves available to clarify the scope and requirements for the initiative. The project manager documented everything and followed PMI best practice procedures. Stakeholder involvement was critical for this project to be successful and that was lacking from the beginning.

This experience emphasizes the importance of holding sponsors accountable for the work they assign to project managers.  Project managers need to be constantly vigilant about not starting work on projects without clarity up-front on the scope and measure of success for the projects. Failure to do that will result in project managers being held accountable for something that is just a figment of someone’s imagination. Consequently, their professionalism is compromised. Productive discussions are required upfront to define and clarify project deliverables and key stakeholder involvement is critical. You need to follow best practices procedures and get clarity upfront. You must also hold the sponsor accountable for clarity about expectations and deliverables. Anything less is a recipe for failure.

Project Sponsor Role: Authority With Accountability

Unfortunately many organizations tolerate executives who enjoy initiating projects. This is particularly true when they are not accountable for the end results that the financial and resource expenditures should produce. That creates situations where project managers are unjustifiably blamed for the failure and the organization wastes significant resources. The only sure fix is to control the initiation of projects so the sponsor commits to producing the business benefit that is the basis for the project being authorized to begin.


Author: Dick Billows, PMP

Dick has more than 25 years of project and program management experience throughout the US and overseas. Dick was a partner in the 4th largest professional firm and a VP in a Fortune 200 company. He trained and developed 100's of project managers using his methodology. Dick is the author of 14 books, over 300 articles and director/producer of 90 short project management training videos. He and a team of 25 project managers work with client companies & students across the US and in Europe, South America, Asia and the Middle East. They have assisted over 300 organizations in improving their project performance. Books by Dick Billows, PMP are on