It goes without saying that the project sponsor is a very key role on the project.  Without the project sponsor – and their money and commitment – the project would never have materialized.  

From a delivery organization standpoint, they are your primary customer, the bill payer, the one you really want to please.  They are the ones who might call your CEO if you aren’t performing well.  They signoff on deliverables, they approve payments, and they negotiate milestones.  They are the straw that stirs the drink on the customer side.  Keep them happy and you’ve achieved one of the three key project success determiners for the engagement.  But there is another side.  Let’s look at it from the project sponsor’s viewpoint.

The project sponsor, in taking on the role, accepts overall accountability to the organization for achieving the project goals. The project sponsor is, in reality, the boss. The sponsor is typically a senior person within the organization who has a high impact on the business, has the necessary experience relating to the project being undertaken, or has the organizational ability to make things happen. The sponsor could also hold the title of senior manager, director, CEO, or CIO. The sponsor sees that things get done in ways that would normally take the project manager forever and a day to complete. The sponsor also reviews the overall progress of the project and serves as the source of support if there are conflicts. The individual who assumes the role of project sponsor would be responsible for:

  • Selecting the project manager (depending on if it's an internal or external project, this may vary)
  • Establishing the project goals
  • Providing leadership for the overall team
  • Selling the project to stakeholders
  • Resolving crucial risks and issues, if the project manager cannot resolve them
  • Ensuring that the project manager is communicating progress and following the best approach
  • Ensuring that approval is provided to proceed to the next project phase
  • Approving major project changes
  • Providing overall direction for the project
  • Potentially assisting in obtaining valuable resources when the project demands it
  • Assisting the project manager with appraisal and performance reporting

The Role

Before taking on the role of the project sponsor, there are some key questions that the identified individual needs to ask himself and others, as an assessment and personal commitment will be necessary.  The following list identifies a brief "acceptance checklist" that might be used by a project sponsor on a typical IT project to gauge his willingness and ability to take on that specific project.
The project is already underway and is in bad shape.

  • I have the available time to dedicate myself to being a project sponsor.
  • I will enforce unfavorable decisions where needed to guide the project forward.
  • I will place the project on hold or cancel the project if appropriate.
  • Success is possible by interfacing with the project manager/team.
  • I will be able to sell the project to stakeholders where required.
  • I am able to motivate and pursue the necessary resources for the project.