Projects teams have plenty of hurdles to navigate—funding is sometimes difficult to secure and the increasingly competitive marketplace demands near-constant innovation. This makes the right project sponsorship a priority. Sponsors are often instrumental in getting access to key resources and gaining cooperation across multiple stakeholder groups.
But how do you find the best sponsors? What can you do if the sponsors that join aren’t as engaged or helpful as you’d like them to be? There are some steps project teams can take to ensure their sponsor base is as powerful, effective, and supportive as possible.
First, the Project Team must identify what it needs in a sponsor. Though much of the criteria will likely be the same from one project to the next, there are sure to be nuances here and there that should be taken into account. The composition of the project team will also impact the kind of assistance or guidance they want sponsors to provide. Some of the most common requirements for the right sponsor include:
Influence. Occasionally, projects need a sponsor who can throw their weight around. This may translate into a sponsor with the influence to convince executives or other highly-placed individuals to lend their support. It might also mean someone with a knack for getting buy-in from reticent stakeholders, such as end users who are known for pushing back against change. The right sponsor’s subtle pressure will be able to keep the team moving forward even if glitches crop up.
Authority. Projects that are unpopular or expensive are just two of the scenarios where a sponsor with significant authority—to compel groups to work together, to assign resources, to earmark funding—could help ensure success. Achieving the best results in these projects often requires a sponsor who can move difficult roadblocks out of the way.
Knowledge. A sponsor with deep expertise in the project’s focus can be a key resource. It’s particularly true when executing projects that have uncommon or demanding parameters, such as those under regulatory oversight or where the public will be affected. Because the sponsor understands the difficulties and requirements, the team doesn’t need to constantly justify what they’re doing or explain why various phases are complex.
Connections. Not quite the same as influence, the right sponsor will be able to tap into their network to find people with exactly the skills or power the team needs to achieve success. Sponsors may have strong industry connections that help the Project Team tackle a difficult labor environment, for example.
Enthusiasm. If a sponsor isn’t excited about the project, there could be trouble ahead. Teams want a sponsor who is ready and eager to cheerlead the project through difficult times. They may also be called upon to help maintain the engagement of other stakeholders after the initial burst of energy fades into the day-to-day efforts that bring a project to a successful completion.
Sometimes, even the best sponsor the organization has to offer isn’t quite what the team really needs. Fortunately, the tools a sponsor brings can be strengthened or augmented with a bit of effort.
Begin with a candid discussion about where the team continues to need help. Sponsors sometimes inherit projects from a predecessor, or sponsorship may be new to them. Explaining the current needs often empowers sponsors to take the ball and get things moving. If there are other sponsors on the project, have a conversation with the entire group so everyone understands the importance of their role. Consider asking if new sponsors should be added to supplement the existing group’s capabilities, but be careful to avoid the appearance of overreaching.