In today’s challenging business conditions, corporate executives struggle to keep businesses running smoothly while effectively leading the changes in the corporate business environment. In many cases, these changes are managed in the form of programs or projects where executives play the role of sponsor.
The responsibilities of the sponsor include directing and leading the PMO teams towards achieving the outcomes desired and ensuring the realization of benefits. In fact, in many situations, projects and programs become the vehicle for implementing executives’ strategic transformation aspirations. Hence, the success or failure of the PMO in delivering on these executive aspirations becomes the key for most companies.
Bearing in mind this critical role, the executive project sponsor needs to be aware of the importance of their leadership style within the PMO team. Project sponsors must lead by example. There are a number of things sponsors can do to improve the PMO culture and increase the effectiveness of project sponsorship.
1. Be punctual
When a sponsor arrives late for a meeting, they send a message that loudly says “I do not respect my commitments or the value of time”. Unfortunately, if this is repeated multiple times, the PMO team may become affected. Executive sponsors need to be reminded that the PMO is about delivering results within limited resources – including time. Showing respect for time should be a top priority. How to show it? Is it enough to speak about it, and stress the importance of time keeping? The answer, in my opinion, is what Ralph Waldo Emerson said “Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.” People will only take you seriously if you are punctual. If your project is time sensitive and a single day of delay is going to cost you dearly, then don’t be late for your appointments.
2. Clearly communicate and practice corporate priorities
No company can excel at everything it does. In reality, companies should focus on excelling in one or two main areas. If there is consistent focus, these main areas will become valuable core competencies. Depending on the nature of the business and corporate resources, some companies choose to define efficiency as the priority for the business while others may choose customer service excellence. Whatever your company has defined as a priority, as an executive sponsor you need to communicate it continually to the PMO. In fact, the PMO’s day-to-day decision-making should be dictated by the corporate priorities. For example, if customer service excellence is the corporate priority, this should drive all product specifications. By doing so, customer service excellence will become part of your corporate DNA.
3. Be engaged until the end of the project
Usually, projects get started with a lot of enthusiasm from everyone. Executive sponsors are often very active at the beginning of the project to ensure it is on track. After some time, some executive sponsors get busy with other activities and lose interest. Depending on the maturity of the project management culture, sponsors may lessen their supervision on projects, but this should not be an excuse to become disengaged.
Executive sponsors must make time to keep track of projects or delegate this role to another sponsor. The only time sponsors are allowed to stop overseeing a project is when the project is closed. For example, during the first month of an eight months project, the sponsor may meet with the team three times a week. In the second month once the project is on track, meeting frequency can be reduced to two times a week. Afterward, it can become weekly until the end of the project.
4. Manage by exceptions
Executive sponsors should be accessible to PMO teams that require regular advice about decisions that impact project costs, quality or time. One effective technique sponsors can employ is to define tolerance levels for such parameters where the PMO team manages the decision-making. The executive sponsor should intervene only if tolerance levels are breached. For example, the tolerance level for cost is defined as 5% of the initial budgeted project cost. The project manager will bring the cost variation to sponsor’s attention only if it exceeds 5%. Otherwise, the project manager can make the decision without referring to the sponsor.
5. Recognize and optimize your leadership style
Choosing the right leadership style for executive sponsors has a great influence on the PMO team. Executive sponsors need to review the situation regularly and choose the most appropriate leadership style based on the circumstances. This might be challenging for some executives if they are used to a particular style. However, it is a habit that can be changed if there is a will to change. For instance, some executives have the habit of micromanagement. If it is practiced continuously, it will have a negative impact on PMO team. It reduces employees’ satisfaction and performance. An executive should consciously decide which style is more appropriate during the course of the project
The executive sponsor has a critical role in any project or program. Sponsors have the opportunity to create an impact and lead the changes in corporation more effectively. They should be aware of their leadership style and work on a plan to enhance their sponsorship skills.
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