Why You Need Project Sponsors

Every project manager has their own higher ups they have to answer to – those can be executives, other managers and stakeholders throughout the project. However, one of the most important people to have above you (or laterally to your side) is a project sponsor or two. As a project manager, you shouldn’t be a stranger to the concept of project sponsors, but a quick refresher on why they’re necessary to your project and how to build sponsorship might be needed.
What Is a Sponsor?
Sponsors have many different roles depending on the organization and the project in question. However, their primary role is one of support and promotion – they often act as go-betweens that work between you and your team, and upper management, as well as stakeholders. Their job is something akin to a cheerleader, but it goes much deeper than that.
Where cheerleaders might incite pride and support, a sponsor’s role goes deeper, and can help you foster better communication, understanding and more. They also keep a project aligned to the organization’s overall plan.
What Can Your Sponsor Do?
While the exact role and responsibilities of each sponsor will vary from one situation to another, there are some common things that these important individuals can do for your project and for future projects, including:

Determine the right type of project
Determine the need for a project
Select the project manager (that’s you)
Set the project’s budget and increase or decrease as necessary
Help build the project’s team
Communicate project progress to executives and higher ups
Make decisions that affect the project based on information supplied by the project manager (you, again)
Work with the project manager to ensure that planning is ongoing and accurate
What Can You Do to Ensure Better Sponsorship?
Encouraging appropriate sponsorship isn’t really your responsibility as a project manager (the responsibility usually runs the opposite direction), but there are some things that you can do to help ensure that you benefit from good sponsors.
You’ll need to interact with upper management and other high-level decision makers about the need for project sponsors. It’s their job to select a sponsor, as well as to provide training and education to each sponsor on their role during the project and how that role will fit with their other responsibilities in the organization.
In addition to communicating with upper management, there are some things you can do to help ensure that your sponsors are able to support you as best as possible. One of those is to make sure that you have open communication and that you and your sponsor are speaking the same language. Don’t expect your sponsor to be fluent in project management speak – you need to provide accurate, timely communications in a manner your sponsors understand inherently to avoid costly misunderstandings.
Work with your sponsors, educate them on what they should know, and translate technical jargon into business terms they can understand. You’ll see significantly greater success with your project with their support.

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