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Project Sponsor as Core Team Member

projectsponsor1Recently I was teaching one of our human dimension skills seminars and the question about who was on the core project team was put to the participants. Someone said the project sponsor was always part of their project team. When quizzed further they indicated that, in fact, the sponsor was also responsible for activities and deliverables in the project plan. This surprised me since we always position the sponsor on the project organization chart above the project manager and team in the overall hierarchy.

It made me wonder how are projects using their sponsor and what level of active involvement do they play?

Who Should the Sponsor Be?

The logical sponsor is the person who both wants the project accomplished and has responsibility for all of the organizational units affected. In essence the person who can make it happen.

This person needs to possess an organizational authority equal to or greater than the scope of influence of the project. The sponsor is usually an executive or member of management and champions the project, pays for it and makes sure the changes are accepted in the business units affected.

One of the most serious problems for projects is not having the right person as sponsor or having a steering committee as your sponsor. This could mean they do not have the organizational authority commensurate with the scope of the project. They could be either too high and have no time or they are too low and become ineffective in clearing the roadblocks that are inevitable in any project. Multiple or co-sponsors can create conflicting interests and put the project in stalemate or jeopardize its success.

What Role Should the Sponsor Play?

The sponsor has a number of key aspects to their role. Along with the management body that approves projects the sponsor will set the project priority, provide funding and approve resource levels. In addition the sponsor will

  • Finalize (and approve any changes to) the project objectives, scope and success criteria
  • Ensure the team has time and resources to achieve success
  • Communicate with business management
  • Commit resources from the various business areas
  • Participate in major project reviews and approve key deliverables
  • Make key project decisions
  • Ensure timely resolution of issues affecting project success

What are the Potential Problems?

If the sponsor is an active team member this will create conflict with their functional role as sponsor. It makes it very difficult for them to be an acceptor of project deliverables when they are responsible for the delivery of some of the components within the project. How will they be able to approve and ensure quality of the project product(s)?

It may undermine the project manager’s role and accountability. The sponsor needs to be able to clear the path for the project manager when there are issues that need to be dealt with at a senior management level. As a team member there will be confusion in making sure the sponsor meets their time and task commitments versus when a project manager needs their support to ensure specific resources are committed from the various functional areas. What happens if the sponsor is one of your resource problems? Then whom do you go to for support? The sponsor then becomes merely a figurehead with limited authority.

The sponsor as a team member also buries them in the micro or detailed level of the project, when their real role is to support and provide direction at the macro level. They need to eliminate possible obstructions and assist in key project decisions from an objective, neutral position. This would be fairly difficult if they are immersed in the day-to-day minutiae.

With a sponsor so actively involved it may even raise the question as to whether or not you indeed have the right sponsor. They may lack the credibility of your other project team members as well as senior management. They could even be viewed as meddling in the regular activities of the project.


What comes to mind is the analogy of the manager of the hotel also participating as a member of the restaurant staff. How would the chef be capable of successfully delivering meals to guests when the hotel manager is one of the cooks and still trying to manage the hotel?

An effective project sponsor can make the project and the project manager’s life immeasurably easier. Making sure they understand their role, responsibilities and what level of support you require at all stages during the project life cycle is a key ingredient of project success. The sponsor needs to be at the top of the project organization chart where they can affect the most influence and authority.

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Catherine Daw, MBA, PMP is President and co-founder of SPM Group Ltd. She provides the vision and leadership needed to evolve the firm including the current corporate direction of enabling effective enterprises through strategic initiative management. Catherine has over twenty-five years of experience, working in a variety of public and private sector companies, holding progressively higher positions both in Information Technology and Business areas. Catherine’s personal commitment has always been to deliver results within a foundation of integrity, open communication and with a strong understanding of value creation and strategic advantage for businesses.

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