What Is a Project Sponsor? Defining This PM Role and Duties

Updated Aug 3, 2022.
project-sponsor

Project management involves many components and key players contributing to the project's success. One of the key players in project management is the project sponsor (a senior management role).

Success in any project is impossible without the help of project sponsors. The project sponsor works hand in hand with the project manager to realize all the project benefits. 

When the project sponsorship role is clearly understood by the project manager and the entire team, everyone enjoys the business benefits. 

This article will teach you everything you need to know about project sponsors.

Let’s get started.

What is a Project Sponsor?

Effective project management is impossible without using key players such as project managers and sponsors. 

A project sponsor is a person or a group of people who are responsible for the existence of a project. This individual is the project champion who makes all the required resources for the project's success available.

Sometimes, a project has only one sponsor, but this is not always the case because various project sponsors support the same project. 

Project sponsors perform different roles from the project owner. The role of a project sponsor goes beyond managing the project's activities (the project manager’s work). 

A project sponsor performs the following roles:

  • Administers project finances, 
  • Approves ideas and changes, 
  • Makes key decisions, 
  • Takes care of engagement and communication processes, 
  • Facilitates the development of the initial project scope and the project charter
  • Participates in stakeholder management 
Project Charter
Source: QIMarcos

In most cases, the sponsor is a part of the project initiation phase and may be part of those responsible for the birthing of the project.

Finally, the type of project executed will determine the sponsor responsible for it. Not all sponsors are compatible with all projects.

For example, it will be a project executed by a government agency that naturally has a government official as its sponsor. For a tech company, it is different because the chief information officer will be the sponsor.

According to the Project Management Institute, the project sponsor sits at the top of any project hierarchy chart, above the project owner, and may be a part of the steering committee. 

The steering committee does not actively participate in the project but provides guidance and oversees project progress.

What is the Role of Project Sponsors in Project Management?

There is no successful project without a project sponsor (executive sponsor). The project sponsor’s role is vital for the project’s success and progress and to prevent project failure. They are vital for high project sustainability and are evident in the project's vision.

Here is a list of project sponsor roles:

  • Provides Guidance: The project team and the project manager can benefit from the guidance, expertise, and vital business strategies the project sponsor offers to help the project succeed. 
  • Communication: Project sponsors act as an additional line of communication and observation with the project team members, key stakeholders, government regulatory agencies, and customers.
  • Promotion: They help promote the project by marketing and selling it throughout the organization to ensure that required funding is available.
  • Decision Making: Project sponsors make major decisions concerning the project, especially those above project managers' pay grades.

Project Sponsor Responsibilities in Project Management

No organization can substitute the role of a project sponsor because they have key responsibilities. The success of every project relies on the project sponsor or sponsors effectively carrying out their responsibilities.

 A project sponsor is vital in everything that has to do with the project lifecycle. These key responsibilities can be categorized into three; vision, governance, and value.

Vision

  • A project sponsor ensures that the business case and business proposition are valid.
  • Ensures that the business objectives and project goals are well aligned with the project at large.
  • Interacts with the project stakeholders and the project team to inform them about ongoing events concerning the project.
  • Responsible for defining the project success criteria that fit well with the overall business objectives.

Governance

  • A project sponsor is responsible for ensuring that the project is properly launched and maintains the organization’s priorities during the project execution.
  • Serves as vital support for the project organization and defines roles and reporting structures.
  • It acts as an escalation point for important matters beyond the project manager's control.
  • Part of project sponsorship is providing financial resources (negotiated funding) to ensure the successful implementation of that project.
  • The project sponsor is an important decision-maker for every project phase and its progress.

Value 

  • The project sponsor manages risks and various changes that affect the project.
  • Helps to ensure control and review of processes
  • Makes sure the project delivers on the planned value
  • Examines project progress and status
  • Approves project deliverables
  • Helps with the decision-making process
  • Responsible for project quality all through the various project phases

What a Project Sponsor Does In Each Phase to Ensure Project Success

Project sponsorship plays a part in every project execution phase. The executive sponsor does not leave things to chance regarding the project at hand but contributes to its success throughout the project lifecycle (from start to finish).

Four Phases of a Project
Source: Guru99

These four phases describe what a project sponsor does.

1. Project Initiation Phase

The project sponsor (executive sponsor) selects the project manager when the project begins to manage the project activities.

  • Provides Mentorship: After the sponsor selects the project manager, the manager gets clear directions, mandate context, and an understanding of the levels of authority or hierarchy. The project sponsor acts as the project manager’s mentor.
  • Decision-Making: The project sponsor evaluates the project charter, sets up a regular meeting schedule, and participates in decision-making activities such as the initial project planning and the kick-off meeting.

2. Project Planning Phase

In the planning phase, the project sponsor role involves scrutinizing the project plan to ensure that it is realistic and selecting the feasible plan for execution.

  • Project Planning: Project sponsors check project plans to ensure the expectations set for the project team are realistic and that there is enough time allocated for proper planning to avoid mistakes. 
  • Assists the Project Manager: In situations where issues may appear beyond the project manager's capacity, the project sponsor serves as a helping hand. This individual helps monitor the project team’s effectiveness.

3. Implementation 

In this phase, the project sponsor works with the project manager but does not overstep boundaries nor interfere with the project manager’s job but stays within the given jurisdiction.

  • Project Evaluation: Assesses progress against the project objectives and gives the project manager feedback.
  • Identifies Problems and Recommends Solutions: The project sponsor plays a vital role in helping the project manager and the project team members identify and solve problems.
  • Project Scope Management: Unnecessary changes to the project can cause project failure. Ensuring the project scope remains unchanged falls under the responsibilities of the sponsor.
  • Resolves Issues: The project sponsor creates a system that effectively solves issues and does not escalate beyond measure. This individual identifies and addresses the underlying factors responsible for the issues.
  • Project Monitoring: If project managers have a lot of projects to handle, the sponsor helps soften the blow by monitoring and ensuring the smooth execution of every project.

4. Closing  

In the closing phase of the project lifecycle, the sponsor engages in the post-project evaluation, which accesses the project performance in line with the success criteria.

  • Proper Documentation: The sponsor ensures the completion of key documents such as handoffs and signoffs to help realize project benefits. 
  • Organizes Discussions: Discussions focused on evaluating the project to know whether it was a successful delivery or not.
  • Communication: The project sponsor helps streamline communication, establishes trust, and seeks to solve identified problems before they escalate. 
  • Risk Management: The sponsor ensures proper risk management and record-keeping of project management reports and documentation.

What is the Difference Between a Project Manager and a Project Sponsor?

The success of any project largely depends on the project sponsor and the project manager. Both individuals work together to achieve success but have different roles and key responsibilities in project management. 

Project Sponsor vs Project Manager

  • Point of Connection: The project sponsor links the organization’s executive team and the project manager, while the project manager links the project sponsor and the project team. 
  • Role: A project manager oversees the entire project by organizing tasks and monitoring resources and workload. In contrast, a project sponsor provides support and resources for project success and signs off on all project requirements.
  • Salary: The project sponsor tends to earn more than the project manager. According to Indeed, the average project manager salary in the United States is $78,678 per year, while that of a chief information officer (project sponsor for IT projects) is $107,663.
  • Education: Project managers require a bachelor's degree in management or business administration and a project management certification. On the other hand, the requirements for sponsors vary based on their industry.

Project Sponsor vs Project Stakeholders

Project sponsors are senior management members responsible for the project’s outcome. In contrast, project stakeholders refer to anyone affected by the project but not an active part of the day-to-day project implementation.

What Makes a Good Project Sponsor

Good project sponsorship is of great value to organizations and a priority and necessity for project success.

With the help of a sponsor, you can guarantee success in current and future projects throughout the project life cycle. Many project sponsors understand the vital role they play in project success. 

In simple terms, a great project sponsor’s job involves sponsoring projects that will positively impact the project value, and the result will impress the project stakeholder. The project sponsor is an expert in portfolio management.

Here are some attributes that describe the qualities of an effective project sponsor:

1. Available to the Project Manager

The availability of the project sponsor to the project manager is vital. A great project sponsor recognizes this and constantly avails themselves to important meetings and crucial discussions concerning the project's success with the project manager.

2. Communication Skills

Communication skills are a valuable feature of a top project sponsor. Project success does not depend on how many project managers are working with the sponsor but on how effectively the sponsor can communicate the project's vision and objective.

3. Experience

When describing the qualities of a top project sponsor, you can not leave out the role of experience.

An experienced project sponsor has the upper hand in most of the challenges or issues that may arise while working on a project. 

Because of the experience gathered while working on projects in the past, the sponsor will know the best and most appropriate steps to take to solve any issue.

Selecting the perfect project manager for the project is an easy task with an experienced sponsor. Because the sponsor has experience working with various project managers over the years, determining who is best for the job becomes stress-free.

4. Gains the Support of the Line or Senior Management

A good project sponsor knows the importance of gaining the line or senior management’s support. It is important to have their support, especially regarding changes and adjustments to the project environment. Having their support is easier when there is constant communication. 

5. Resistance Management Skills 

The ability to convert resistance to support is an important skill a good project must possess. Facing resistance is natural when executing a project, but the most important thing is how to turn the table and change things in their favor.

Not every project stakeholder, project manager, or team member will support the decisions and changes made by the project sponsor.

A project sponsor's ability to effectively manage resistance is a good attribute. Without this attribute, project progress can encounter delay with a backlog of pending tasks and goals. 

Sponsors must know how to help those working with them; seeing things from the perspective ensures the successful execution of the project.

10 Qualities of a Good Project Sponsor

Consider these ten qualities when categorizing a good project sponsor or executive sponsor.

  • Vital Participation and Involvement: A project sponsor has a key role in project planning and visualization.
  • Budgets: Reviews the staffing process and every expense incurred.
  • Reviews: Examine and approves changes to the plan.
  • Resolves issues: Possess skills in problem resolution and finding solutions to issues.
  • Support System: Collaborate with the project manager to achieve the project goals.
  • Guidance: Makes key decisions concerning the project and offers valuable advice.
  • Communication: Encourages effective communication strategies.
  • Intermediary: Performs the role of intermediaries between the project team and the decision-making group.
  • Celebrates Achievements: A sponsor honors the success and completion of milestones.
  • Evaluations: Carefully evaluates the project's success or failure after completion. 

What Should I Ask a Project Sponsor?

Communication is a key element of any successful project. Not every question is important; at the same time, for the project to move forward and arrive at the desired threshold, you must ask certain vital questions.

Some of these questions are listed below:

  • What is your role in this project?
  • What is the purpose of this project?
  • What are the priorities of this project?
  • What kind of resistance or challenges do you anticipate with this project?
  • How would you like issues to be escalated?
  • What time will you be available?
  • How often would you like to hear from the project manager?
  • Is the project plan clear to you?
  • Are there any other projects dependent on this project?
  • What do you think about the schedule and expenses?
  • In what way will you access the end product or deliverables?
  • Are you looking for something specific regarding performance, or do you have requirements?

Asking the right questions will always bring the right answers and results.

A project sponsor is vital to the success of every organization project. With the right project sponsor with the right skills and experience, success is a guarantee.

Anastasia Belyh

Editor at FounderJar

Anastasia has been a professional blogger and researcher since 2014. She loves to perform in-depth software reviews to help software buyers make informed decisions when choosing project management software, CRM tools, website builders, and everything around growing a startup business.

Anastasia worked in management consulting and tech startups, so she has lots of experience in helping professionals choosing the right business software.