What Is a Project Sponsor? Defining This PM Role

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Project personnel, such as a project sponsor, are given specific titles and responsibilities and exist in a bureaucratic structure. Projects would quickly spin out of control without a bureaucratic structure to organize action and authorize change. A bureaucracy creates order and delivers efficiency through charting action and sharing knowledge.

In that spirit, we’ll look at a critical role, one that’s near the top of the totem pole: the project sponsor. This position might be the most important because the project was created for the project sponsor, and therefore their ultimate approval or disapproval will mark either a successful or failed venture.

What Is a Project Sponsor?

The project sponsor is that person or group who owns the project. Every project has one. They are the reason for the project. While they don’t manage the day-to-day operations of a project, they are above the project manager in terms of project hierarchy.

Most likely, the project sponsor has been involved with the project from the very beginning. They were the one who helped conceive it and advocated for it.

According to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), the project sponsor is “a person or group who provides resources and support for the project, program or portfolio for enabling success.”

The project sponsor can vary according to the project. For example, a government project is going to have a state official as project sponsor who will work with the construction company’s project manager. However, in an IT project, the project sponsor might be the chief information officer.

project sponsor responsibilities

Project Sponsor Responsibilities

The project sponsor is responsible for many aspects of the project, from initiating and ensuring the success to approving and establishing parts of the project. According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), the project sponsor role can be broken into three parts: vision, governance and value or benefits realization. They break those down in the following way:

Vision

  • Makes sure the business case is valid and in step with the business proposition
  • Aligns project with business strategy, goals and objectives
  • Stays informed of project events to keep project viable
  • Defines the criteria for project success and how it fits with the overall business

Governance

  • Ensures project is properly launched and initiated
  • Maintains organizational priorities throughout project
  • Offers support for project organization
  • Defines project roles and reporting structure
  • Acts as an escalation point for issues when something is beyond the project manager’s control
  • Gets financial resources
  • Decision-maker for progress and phases of project

Values & Benefits

  • Makes sure that risks and changes are managed
  • Helps to ensure control and review processes
  • Oversees delivery of project value
  • Evaluates status and progress
  • Approves deliverables
  • Helps with decision-making
  • Responsible for project quality throughout project phases

What a Project Sponsor Does In Each Phase

While sometimes a project sponsor is clearly engaged from the start and other times they are nowhere to be seen, the best project sponsor is fully engaged with every phase of the project.

Initiation Duties

Project sponsors are instrumental in selecting the project manager during the initiation phase, and then they give that project manager a clear mandate, context for the project and set the level of their authority.

Also, during the project initiation, the project sponsor makes sure the project is appropriate for the organization, offering input on the project charter and participates in the kick-off meeting. The sponsor helps with the decision making during this phase.

Planning Duties

For the planning phase, the project sponsor is checking to make sure the project plan is realistic and feasible. This accounts for time restrictions and whether or not the team is tasked with expectations they cannot meet.

The project sponsor can help resolve issues, too, if they’re beyond the scope of the project manager. If there are other projects in play, the project sponsor is making sure they’re all working together and not against each other.

Implementation Duties

For the implementation and control phases, the project sponsor should work with the project manager, but not overstep boundaries. The project sponsor evaluates the project’s actual progress against what was planned and provides feedback to the project manager as necessary.

Sponsors also help the project manager and team work more autonomously to solve issues as they arise, while making sure that processes are being followed. They identify underlying factors that might cause problems and celebrate completion of milestones.

Closing Duties

During the closing phase, the project sponsor is part of the post-mortem evaluation on performance and other aspects of the project. They make sure that handoffs and signoffs are done properly. Project sponsors help facilitate the discussion that decides whether a project was a success or failure.

Overall, a project sponsor helps to streamline communications. They create trust and collaboration and keep problems from escalating. In terms of issues, they set up the instrument to identify problems with schedule, cost and quality. In that sense, they’re also in charge of making sure risk management is successful. Finally, they also encourage record-keeping for historical data storage.

Differences Between a Project Sponsor and Other Roles

A project sponsor is different from a project owner in that they’re a person, while the owner is an organization. However, in most cases the project sponsor is employed by the project owner.

The project stakeholder can be confused with the project sponsor because of the similar titles. However, a project stakeholder is anyone who is affected by the project. They can be government regulatory agencies, landowners, etc. The project sponsor is usually part of the organization that owns the project.

Related: What is Stakeholder Theory?

Best Practices for Interacting with Project Sponsors

For the project manager, engaging with the project sponsor is part of the working dynamic of any project, and the most important element on which to build that dynamic is trust. You earn trust by delivering on your promises. This means completing your tasks on schedule to the best of your ability and showing you have the skills and experience to get the work done right.

You also want your communications to be clear and structured to meet the project sponsor’s expectations. Project sponsors need regular status updates. ProjectManager.com has a number of tools that help you get your tasks done on time and under budget, and then communicate that success to your project sponsor.

For example, with our online Gantt chart, when team members log on and complete the tasks assigned to them, the project progress updates in real time. This helps you stay on schedule and provides a visual way to update your project sponsor on the schedule.

gantt chart for reporting to project sponsors

ProjectManager.com also has a real-time dashboard that displays live project data. Not only is the project manager notified, that information is fed into the dashboard where the numbers are crunched and displayed in easy-to-read graphs and charts.

These charts can be filtered to display just the data that the project sponsor wants, and then shared digitally or printed out for a presentation. If you’re meeting with the project sponsor, take your software with you. You can easily access it if any questions arise that demand a deeper dive into the data.

dashboard for updating sponsors

Project sponsors need this sort of transparency: they feel a part of the process and can provide the guidance they’re tasked to deliver to keep the project aligned with the organization’s business objectives.

Project sponsors are one of the many gears that drive a project to a successful end. They are especially important as they have the power to approve or disapprove changes in order to keep projects aligned with business strategy. Therefore, you want to keep them well-informed. If you want to integrate the project sponsor better, try ProjectManager.com for free with this 30-day trial.

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