How to earn (and keep) project sponsor support
Wednesday, March 21, 2018
As the project manager, your relationship with the project sponsor can make or break a project. If you work well together and understand each other's working style, that can make even the most challenging project easier to manage.
However, if you find yourself in constant disagreement and conflict with the sponsor, that can make a project miserable. Here are several tips on how to work well with your next project sponsor:
Tip 1: Seek to understand your sponsor
As you start working on the project charter and other project initiating documents, this is also time to get to know the project sponsor. Seek to determine his/her personality, goals for this project, overall career interests and working style.
If you run into issues during the project (and most projects involve a few challenges), this information will help you know how to approach the sponsor in those moments.
Tip 2: Help your sponsor win
Your sponsor likely has a lot invested in this project. She may have fought hard to get approval for project funding or sees this project as something that could boost her career. Once you know what the sponsor's interests are (see Tip 1), go ahead and integrate those interests into the project plan and effort.
When you help your sponsor win and even look good to her boss, that reflects well on you and your team. Of course, helping your sponsor win should also mean the company wins. Helping your sponsor win should never come at the cost of ethics or legality.
Tip 3: Address issues immediately
If there's an issue with the project, gather the facts and work with the team to come up with a few possible solutions. Depending on the severity of the issue, you may need to alert the sponsor to the problem and mention that you're working with the team to develop options for him to review.
The key is to make sure the sponsor learns of the situation from you and not through the company rumor mill. Once you have a few viable options, go to the sponsor and ask for his input.
Tip 4: Provide consistent updates
As you begin the project, talk with your sponsor to determine how she prefers to receive project updates. Does she want you to email a one-page executive summary dashboard to her each week? Would she prefer a monthly status meeting?
Provide a few options for how you can deliver project status updates and ask the sponsor which method she prefers. Once you agree on an update process, provide those updates consistently. This builds trust with your sponsor, as she knows you'll keep her informed.
Tip 5: Discuss what you need from the project sponsor
Like any relationship, the project manager/project sponsor relationship is a two-way street. While you certainly need to support the interests and needs of the sponsor, there are things you'll need from the sponsor as well.
This is especially important if the individual you're working with hasn't sponsored a project before. You may need to introduce the responsibilities of this role to him. Those likely include him providing overall guidance and final decision-making authority for the project, ensuring the project has appropriate funding, and championing the project with other stakeholders throughout the organization.
Working with your project sponsor can be a positive and rewarding experience for both of you. When you invest time upfront in getting to know each other and defining expectations, you greatly increase the likelihood of enjoying an excellent working relationship.
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