The project sponsor is the person responsible for the overall success of the project, including appointing the project manager and team, defining success criteria, and ensuring the successful delivery of the project. In this article, we’ll cover the difference between project stakeholders and sponsors and will define the roles of project managers and sponsors to help you collaborate effectively.
The project sponsor, or executive sponsor, is a person or a group of people at the senior management level. They are responsible for the success of a project and provide necessary guidance and resources to the project team and manager. Ideally, project sponsors provide high project sustainability, strategic planning, and successful implementation of the project’s objectives.
The project sponsor sits above the project manager. In most cases, the project sponsor is the one who advocated for the project and has been on board since day one.
We’ll cover the key responsibilities and duties of a project sponsor, how they support the project manager throughout the lifecycle of a project, and clear up the differences between project stakeholders and sponsors.
Project sponsors are typically senior executives. Oftentimes, they’re just below board level and are involved in multiple projects at once. A project sponsor has three main responsibilities:
Vision and people: Aligning the project with business goals, strategy, and objectives
Governance: Ensuring the project’s proper launch and execution.
Value and benefits: Managing risks and changes while ensuring the project’s quality
When we break down these categories further, you can see the different responsibilities a project sponsor holds:
Select the right manager for the project and mentor them throughout.
Negotiate funding and act as a spokesperson to senior management on behalf of the project manager.
Participate in initial project planning and development of project charters and scope.
Define the criteria of the project’s success and get stakeholder buy-in.
Promote the project’s value and make sure it has the resources to succeed.
Support the project manager with knowledge and guidance.
Maintain ongoing communication between the projects manager, team, and stakeholders.
Review changes to the project environment (e.g., schedules, tasks, priorities, etc.) and manage risks as they arise.
The project sponsor is involved in a project from start to finish which means that they have a variety of tasks, responsibilities, and duties through the project lifecycle. Both the project manager and sponsor should be aware of the responsibilities the sponsor holds so everyone stays within their lines and delivers what’s asked of them.
Appoint a project manager and steering committee. A steering committee typically consists of high-level managers and stakeholders who can provide advice throughout the project’s lifecycle. Since the members of a steering committee aren’t actively involved in the project, they can remain a bird's eye perspective and provide valuable guidance and oversight of the progress the project is making.
Define project success and deliverables. The project sponsor should also ensure that these objectives have been communicated properly and everyone on the team understands these goals.
Organize and surface tasks in a central source of truth like a project management tool so they’re available for everyone on the project.
Monitor initiation activities and support where necessary. It’s critical to ensure that everyone on the project team is doing what they’re supposed to be doing so the project can run smoothly later on.
Champion the project during the kick-off meeting and be prepared to support the project manager if any questions arise from the team.
Observe and adjust project plans to ensure realistic delivery dates.
Act as the point of contact for the project manager for challenges and escalation issues.
Monitor the project team’s effectiveness and group dynamics and communicate wins or opportunities to the project manager.
Review the RAID log (Risks, Assumptions, Issues, and Dependencies). This log is an important project planning document that lists the potential risks that may have an impact on your project, assumptions you have about the progress or outcome of the project, issues that may be arising during the project lifecycle, and dependencies that your project relies on (e.g. input from an expert).
Work with the project manager to establish healthy boundaries between manager and sponsor, as well as sponsor and senior management (and avoid micromanagement). It’s important that the sponsor trusts the project manager to lead their team through the project and will ask for support from the sponsor when needed.
Cater to the project needs to support the team and manager. These can be resources like hardware or software, additional funding, or more people to support the project team.
Ensure senior leaders have access to project status reports so they can stay up to date as needed. These reports also need to be updated on a regular basis (weekly, monthly, or quarterly, depending on the nature of the project).
Implement change control processes as needed to reduce scope creep.
Evaluate the project progress and provide feedback when appropriate. Depending on the nature of the project, it can be helpful to schedule weekly, monthly, or quarterly review meetings to assess progress and adjust deadlines or goals.
Encourage the project manager and team to find their own solutions to arising problems. Lead by example and model good problem-solving strategies.
Identify, address, and solve root causes of issues that emerge.
Update the RAID log frequently to accommodate changes in the project throughout its life cycle.
Acknowledge the completion of key project milestones. It’s important to celebrate these milestones to recognize the team’s effort and impact.
Evaluate the project performance based on the previously defined success criteria. This data will be important for the upcoming post-mortem or retrospective to discuss the project’s performance.
Ensure a successful project hand-off to the client. This step marks the end of the project as all deliverables are now in the client’s hands.
Participate in or lead a project post-mortem or lessons learned session to discuss project successes and failures. Encourage the project manager to document these lessons for future projects.
Ensure completion of project sign-off. This includes dismissing the project team but also completing any legal formalities.
These duties can vary based on the intensity and complexity of the project at hand but regardless, the involvement and importance of a project sponsor should not be underestimated.
While the two terms sound very similar, project sponsors and stakeholders hold two very different roles.
A project stakeholder can be anyone who is affected by the project—from members of the project team to people who aren’t actively involved in the project’s process. Stakeholders can be investors, peers, customers, or superiors.
A project sponsor on the other hand is generally not only part of the organization but also accountable for the project. They are responsible for the overall success of the project, and they typically define and ensure the project’s success. Depending on the project, a sponsor will also frequently act as a mentor to the project manager.
Both the project sponsor and project manager are highly involved in the project and responsible for the outcome and success. The project sponsor is the point of connection between the organization’s executive team and the project manager; the project manager is the point of connection between the project sponsor and the project team.
The role of the project manager is to organize, track, and ultimately lead their team to execute work within a project. A project manager is the day-to-day team leader—they are responsible for monitoring resources and workload, overseeing task completion, and updating stakeholders on the project progress. If necessary, the project manager can request additional support from the project sponsor. Their role is to also keep an eye on the goals and expectations to alert the project sponsor when there’s a misalignment between the schedule and the estimated dates.
The relationship between the project sponsor and the project manager can determine the outcome of the project. Clearly set expectations, frequent communication, and mutual trust are necessary to ensure a successful project.
Depending on the complexity of the project and the experience of the project manager, the project sponsor can choose a more hands-off approach or decide to be more involved and supportive, guiding the project manager and team through the individual steps and tasks of the project. Ideally, the project sponsor acts as a mentor to the project manager.
Project managers and project sponsors rely on each other to successfully execute projects. To help both parties keep track of their responsibilities, tasks, and goals, reliable collaboration software is key. Asana is a work management tool designed to help teams manage work and hit their goals. With Asana, you can keep each other updated in real time and never let anything slip through the cracks.Improve team collaboration with Asana