Your project sponsors are key to getting initiatives approved, planned, and executed. Without them your project may not receive enough funding to become a reality, and even if it did there’s a chance you’d encounter some show-stopping obstacles along the way.
Fortunately, sponsors are usually eager to help get a project off the ground and see it through to a successful completion. Sometimes, however, PMs find themselves trying to connect with a sponsor whose commitment level has fallen off. Their attendance at routine project meetings might drop off or their assistance in securing cooperation from other internal departments is suddenly slow in coming. Occasionally they stop responding to requests for information and support. This can create big problems for the team and could put the target completion date or the project’s expected results in jeopardy.
Before you can devise a strategy to reengage an absent sponsor, you need to figure out why they went dark in the first place. Below are some of the most common reasons.
1 – They’re busy. It’s often as simple as that: your sponsor’s other responsibilities occupy too much of their time for them to devote enough of it to your project. You may still hear from them occasionally, but even the most well-intentioned champions are sometime stuck trying to carve an hour out of their schedule to attend a progress meeting or jump on the phone to discuss budget issues. They want to help but they just can’t find a way to make it all happen.
2 – The project no longer interests them. As other initiatives get underway and operational issues grab their focus, your sponsor may not care as much about the project as they used. Something else might look more promising when it comes to advancing their division’s goals or their personal career ambitions. It’s possible your project just isn’t as sexy as some of the other things they’re working on at the moment.
3 – They don’t like the way the project is going. Whether they’re dismayed by the amount of time a particular activity is taking or they’re irritated that you aren’t giving certain user groups preferential treatment, PMs are sometimes surprised to discover they’re dealing with an unhappy sponsor. Rather than speak up about their misgivings or concerns, some people choose to avoid confrontation by curtailing their involvement or ignoring the project entirely.
4 – Their role has changed and continued participation in your project doesn’t make sense. Though most organizational reshuffles are well communicated, occasionally the leadership team feels that a discreet approach is more appropriate. Your sponsor’s shift toward new responsibilities may be conditional, too—on their performance, on the company’s financial picture, on preliminary approval of a new product, or on the signing of a contract with a new client, for example. With a new role to tackle, your sponsor might not have the leverage or leeway they once did, and their absence reflects that.
5 – They overcommitted to the project initially. It happens: a sponsor who was gung-ho about shepherding a high-profile initiative through to a successful completion sometimes bites off more than they can chew. They might not have had the authority to give your project the green light, or their funding approval could be lower than advertised. Now when you need their help, they aren’t in a position to give it, and they’re probably just as miffed about it as you are.
With a better understanding of why your sponsor became disconnected from your project, you can put together a plan to get them—and their influence—back on the team.