What sort of sponsor do you have? Strategies for Project Sponsorship, a new book by Vicki James, Peter Taylor and Ron Rosenhead, describes 9 different types of sponsor, all people you may come across who are sponsoring your projects. Unfortunately, you won’t want any of these on your project! They are talking about the difficulties that project managers can face when dealing with sponsors who are less than helpful.

The first 5 types of awkward sponsor are:

  1. The absent sponsor
  2. The busy sponsor
  3. The uninterested sponsor
  4. The inexperienced sponsor
  5. The sponsor who wants to be project manager.

Let’s look at each of these in turn.

1. The absent sponsor

The absent sponsor

An absent sponsor will not respond to your messages. You have never met them. They cancel meetings or they don’t turn up when you organise a meeting. Worse, perhaps there is no project sponsor at all.

The problem with this is that you, as project manager, probably spend far too much time working on the project and invest too much personally – because you are essentially doing the sponsor role as well. There’s no executive oversight, so you don’t get any support. There’s no information coming down the chain either, so you may not be aware of critical changes in the business that will affect your project.

Solution: The authors suggest dealing with the root cause. Find out if she is too busy, too uninterested, not sure of what she is doing or is there another reason? Once you have given this some thought, the only option may be to get a new sponsor.

2. The busy sponsor

The busy sponsor

A sponsor who is too busy to support you and the team on your project is a problem. They do not attend meetings, you can’t get hold of them and there are so many other things that the sponsor is managing that when you do get 10 minutes of their precious time, they’ve forgotten everything about your project anyway. They just have too much going on to be useful.

The issue here is that it can take you ages to get any decisions made – or you’ll end up crossing your fingers and making the decisions yourself. The team will get disillusioned – after all, if the sponsor doesn’t care about this project, why are they working on it?

Solution: Get your business case signed off as this will force a discussion with the sponsor. Get access to them via their assistant or deputy. Find out why she is the sponsor if she is genuinely too busy to give it the attention it deserves, and resign yourself to the fact that you may have to get another sponsor.

3. The uninterested sponsor

The uninterested sponsor

This sort of sponsor does not have an authoritative voice so they aren’t much help in securing the resources that you need. They may defer decisions to other people; in fact they may have ended up being the sponsor because someone delegated the task to them and they genuinely have no interest in the outcome.

You’ll spend more of your time doing the sponsor role, because they aren’t. And you’ll have to try to get input from other stakeholders because the sponsor isn’t stepping up to facilitate this for you.

Solution: Find out why she is uninterested. Then you can do something about it. You may be able to show her why she should be interested in your project by referring to the business case. But you may ultimately have to work to get a new sponsor who does have an interest in the outcome.

4. The inexperienced sponsor

The inexperienced sponsor

If your sponsor has never worked with projects before, she may not know what to do as a sponsor. This doesn’t necessarily give you a problem, but if she is not keen or able to ask for help, you could find yourself working with someone who is a bit of a loose cannon! Or not that useful at all.

This sponsor won’t understand the project lifecycle and you’ll have to spend time explaining to them how projects work – if they will listen.

Solution: If you sponsor is keen to learn, spend as much time as you can with them sharing your expectations for the sponsor role. Ask what she expects to do as sponsor. Agree things like reporting timelines and what she will make decisions about. Provide as much support as you can and you could turn the situation around.

5. The sponsor who wants to be the project manager

The sponsor who wants to be the project manager

In this situation the sponsor micromanages everything. They want constant updates, they get involved with testing, they check deliverables, they want to be copied in on every email. It can get quite draining, especially if they have a habit of changing decisions made at project management level, things that the team was perfectly capable of resolving themselves.

This will be very frustrating for you but needs to be handled carefully – it is not easy to tell a senior manager to back off!

Solution: Discuss their role with the sponsor so that he or she knows what they really should be focusing on. Explain how they can add value through doing this, and also explain your own role and what a project manager can do for them. If you can provide specific examples of where their over-involvement has caused problems on the project, for you or the team, then use these to illustrate the overlap that there is currently with regards to roles and responsibilities.