Characteristics of Great Project Sponsors
By Brenda Kerton
Recently a friend of mine wrote an article on a project I led a few years ago. As he and I emailed back-and-forth about his article I was reflecting on went well with that project since successful projects are never just about the project manager.
We had a skilled and enthusiastic team and we had great sponsors. As I further thought about other successful projects I’ve led or been part of it seemed that great sponsorship was a consistent pattern. Strong teams and strong project managers may overcome mediocre sponsorship to deliver not-bad projects. Truly great projects need all of strong teams, strong project managers and great sponsorship.
Of the many great sponsors I’ve been lucky enough to work with, few have had the same personality or business skill set. So, I started to think about what they did share. Here’s my list of things to look for in a sponsor or aspire to as a sponsor. I’m sure many of you can add to this list and I’d love to hear from you!
Clear understanding and definite dissatisfaction with the current state
- They understand what is wrong or not working and why
- They understand the business consequences of the issues
- They believe the current state is untenable
- They share this with everyone, often – not by blaming, rather by explaining
Clear sense of the future direction without preconceived notions of the final solution
- They know what business results they need from the project
- They believe the project can and will provide a solution that delivers the results needed
- They trust the project team to come up with solution options and a recommended solution as part of executing on the project
- They communicate all of this with everyone, often – with a sense of passion and persistence
Active in risk management
- They are not head-in-the-sand optimists nor are they afraid of people that bring forward risks and challenges
- They expect those identifying risks to also propose risk mitigation actions
- They see risk plans not as pessimism but as the method to ensure realistic and sustainable optimism
- They share that brand of optimism with everyone, often
Makes the right decisions
- They set clear boundaries and a framework for decision making in partnership with the project manager and based on the needs and situation for that project
- They do not usurp the project manager and team’s role in making the project-based decisions on how the project is run
- They do make the decisions they are asked to make as quickly as possible to help the team avoid delays
- They facilitate getting decisions made by others when (not if, when!) politics threatens to derail progress
- They are not afraid to make decisions and they stand behind the decisions they make and that the project team makes
- They communicate decisions needed or made as often as necessary to whoever is necessary
Willingness to serve the project and the project team
- They expect the project manager to let them know when there are problems – yet they are not invisible until a problem arises; they check in to see how things are going not as micro-managers, but as servants to the team, ready and willing to help
- They clear roadblocks that only they, with their authority and position, can clear
- They do not take over problems the project team can handle; they trust the team to do its job
- They provide a dome of protection and focus for the project team; they support the project manager in ensuring the project team is not raided for its talent or diverted to things that do not meet project goals
- They keep the project visible and reiterate its importance to everyone, often
Expects results and is willing to pay for them
- They set high standards of behaviour and action and expect the same from the project team
- They do not set unrealistic or unachievable goals; yet they expect the team to be better than the sum of its individual members and to stretch themselves
- They do not expect to get great results at bargain basement prices nor do they provide an open wallet
- They provide that sense of balance on the path to results to everyone, always
- Acknowledges results
- They celebrate the interim results and the final results
- They provide ongoing encouragement to the project team and to everyone involved in or impacted by the project
- They deflect the glory to those that worked on the project in any capacity
- They share their excitement and pride widely
I can think of many more detailed items but these are the key things I look for from a sponsor.
Perhaps it is no surprise that this is a very similar list of things I look for in a leader!
Brenda Kerton is the principal consultant and owner of Capability Insights Consulting. http://www.capabilityinsights.com
Brenda has over 25 years of leadership, business and information technology experience. Her strengths are strategic analysis, change leadership and aligning business with IT. Her passion is the creation of business solutions that respect the people and the work and truly achieve the benefit opportunities.