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The Role of a Project Sponsor Explained

When we talk about the role of a project sponsor, we are actually talking about many things. Project sponsors are heavily involved in projects, from conception to completion. Their role must therefore change and adapt as the project moves forward. We take a look at what a project sponsor is, what their role and responsibilities entail, as well as how to work effectively with a project sponsor.

What is a Project Sponsor?

A project sponsor is someone who has overall accountability for a project. More senior than the project manager, project sponsors are in charge of moving a project forward in order to realise the values and benefits associated with its completion. Usually involved from the very beginning, a project sponsor may have conceived of the initial idea or been an advocate for it; in this way, they are often the reason for the project’s being. 

Project Sponsor Definition

The Project Management Body of Knowledge defines a project sponsor as “a person or group who provides resources and support for the project, program or portfolio for enabling success.”

From this definition, we can begin to see how the role of a project sponsor may vary depending on the circumstances of the project. A project sponsor must act as a champion for a project, helping to provide guidance and vision, as well as any necessary resources required by the project team to reach a successful endpoint.

What is the Role of a Project Sponsor?

Whilst a project sponsor has many different roles over the course of a project, recurring roles include:

Championing the project

Many projects undoubtedly have delays or barriers that must be overcome. It is the role of a project sponsor to help ensure that both the project team and stakeholders do not lose faith in the project and continue to see the value completion could bring

Guidance and expertise

As project sponsors are frequently the reason for a project’s existence, they should have a clear vision for the project. This means they should be able to offer expert advice and guidance to the project team, as needed

Key decision maker

Linking to the idea of expertise, a project sponsor must act as a key decision-maker within projects to ensure it aligns with the expectations of stakeholders and delivers the communicated benefits.

Stakeholder communication

Whilst stakeholders are unlikely to be directly involved in a project, they may have the ability to shut it down or alter the aims. The project sponsor acts as an open line of communication between the project team and the stakeholders to ensure the project moves forward in line with the aims of the organisation.

What Different Roles Could a Project Sponsor Undertake?

A project may even have more than one project sponsor, taking on a unique role that matches their expertise. Working this way can allow a team to have more access to specialist resources and knowledge, helping them to deliver a successful project.

Executive Sponsor

An executive sponsor would act as the highest level of authority for a project. It is likely that they conceived of the project and communicated the need for it to stakeholders. An executive sponsor would be responsible for providing financial resources to the project team to ensure it can be completed and acting as the main point of contact between the team and key stakeholders. As the highest level of authority on the project, they are also likely to be the key decision-maker for escalated issues.

Business Analyst

As a business analyst project sponsor, you would be required to continuously analyse the project team’s activities, looking at data collected in order to provide suggestions to refine the project, as well as ensuring that the project is on track to deliver the value specified during the conception stage.

Technical Advisor

A technical advisor will likely take on more of a consultancy role. They should have expertise in the project area so that the project team is able to ask for advice and guidance on the technical aspects of the project. The technical advisor should also be heavily involved in the planning phase of the project, helping to develop a technical infrastructure to deliver the project.

Strategic Lead

Finally, the strategic lead will be responsible for ensuring the project aligns to the overall objectives and aims of the organisation. They should be paramount in directing the strategy of the project and helping to create a plan that will allow this strategy to be actioned. They will also continuously track the progress of the project to determine if the strategy is viable or must be adjusted.

Project Sponsor Responsibilities

Of course, within these roles, project sponsors are responsible for a wide array of tasks. The Project Management Institute splits these responsibilities into 3 areas: Vision, Governance, and Value/Benefits.

Vision

  • Ensure the viability and need for the project
  • Ensure the project aligns with the strategic objectives and aims of the organisation or business
  • Stay up to date with both the project and the organisation’s objectives ensuring that the project is reactive to any changes and remains viable
  • Define criteria for the ongoing success of the project that aligns with the organisation’s objectives

Governance

  • Ensure the project is planned and initiated properly
  • Act as a champion for the project ensuring appropriate priority is given to it at an organisational level
  • Provide ongoing support to the project team, ensuring the organisation and strategy for the project are clearly defined throughout
  • Assign necessary roles to those involved in the project team and create a reporting process to track the ongoing progress of the project
  • Serve as an escalation point for issues and decisions that cannot be made by the project team or project manager
  • Provide resources required by the team in order to successfully complete the project. This could include financial resources, technical or administrative resources and more. 

Value/Benefits

  • Consistently risk assess the project to ensure any risks are managed effectively to ensure the viability of the project
  • Ensure there are contingency plans in place for any perceived risks
  • Ensure that the intended value of the project is realised
  • Evaluate the ongoing progress and status of the project to ensure the project is delivered on time and within budget
  • Approve any deliverables produced by the project team
  • Ensure that the project team are aware of limitation in terms of resources and project deliverables
  • Be responsible for the overall success of the project from initiation to completion, taking into account the quality, value, and benefits for the project

Working with a Project Sponsor

From a project management point of view, working with your project sponsor(s) is key to ensuring the success of the project. Each project has a number of different phases including initiation, planning, implementation, and completion. During each phase, the way in which you work with your project sponsor, and the role of the project sponsor will differ. 

Initiation

During the initiation phase of a project, the project sponsor will likely select the project team, informing them of the need, aims and objectives of the project. It will be the role of the project sponsor to ensure that all members of the project team are clear on what their role is going to be and ensure the project is appropriate for the organisation.

Planning

The planning phase will entail a joint effort from the team to put together a realistic plan of how the project can be successfully delivered. It is during this phase that the team should raise any issues in relation to expectations, time, or budget constraints. The project sponsor can then address these issues with stakeholders to try and resolve them to ensure the smooth running of the project.

Implementation

This stage refers to the actual carrying out of the project. Once the plan has been created in tandem with the team and the project sponsor, the project sponsor can take somewhat of a step back. By handing the reins to the project manager, the role of the project sponsor becomes guidance and evaluation.

The project team can use the sponsor as a means of communicating with stakeholders should any issues arise, as a source of expert information and feedback to help improve project activities and assess progress.

Completion

On completion of the project, it should be evaluated from start to finish in order to determine whether it has been a success or not. The project team and key stakeholders may offer insights at this stage on areas of the project they think worked well and areas that could be improved in the future. Costs, resources, and other factors will also be taken into account during the evaluation process.

Making the Project Sponsor Role Work for You

If you’re assigned the role of project sponsor, you may feel somewhat overwhelmed by what the role entails. You must be involved in all aspects of the project whilst ensuring its successful completion. This can come with a lot of pressure. We have put together some tips on how you can make the role of project sponsor work for you:

  • Team Communication – communication is key. Arrange weekly check-ins with the project manager to update them on the status, as well offering both parties to communicate any issues or further resources that are needed. 
  • Stakeholder Communication – you may also want to set up meetings with key stakeholders at various phases of the project i.e. during the implementation stage, planning etc. This will help you to ensure the organisations objectives have not changed and that the project aligns with, and is fulfilling the current plans.
  • Expertise – when choosing your team, make sure to pick the right team for the job. Having the right expertise within your team will make delivering a successful project that much easier so choose wisely.
  • Analysis – ensure that you know what the aims of your project are and have a process for analysing progression and success. Without this, you could find yourself wasting time and resources.

How Can Verto 365 Help?

When working with a project sponsor, it is essential to ensure the lines of communication are always open. Transparency is key in the role to ensure the success of the project and its alignment with organisational objectives. Without being involved in every stage of the project, this will be difficult to achieve.

That’s where Verto 365 steps in. Our partnership with Microsoft Teams enables you to have all the tools you need for seamless collaboration via the Verto 365 app. A platform such as Verto 365 can help teams to work effectively together, collaborating on a project. 

Not only does Verto 365 boast risk management features to help your project stay on track, but it also allows teams to communicate, upload and collaborate on documents together, as well as report on the ongoing progress of projects.

To begin, you can get Verto 365 Workspaces for free, which provides you with Kanban Boards to collaborate on the organisational side of the project. 

Working from one system where all information and documents are centralised will allow you to work more efficiently, as it will remove much of the lag caused by flicking between multiple platforms to complete tasks. 

Get the Verto 365 app from Microsoft Teams today or use it online from vertocloud.co.uk to see what Verto 365 can do for you.

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About the author – Laura Watts

Laura is the Marketing Manager at TMI Systems Ltd., working predominantly on Verto 365 and closely on the Microsoft partnership enabling the platform to be used in its entirety from Microsoft Teams. Laura and her family moved from London in 2021 and now live and work in Gloucestershire.