A project sponsor is normally the projects most senior supporter within an organisation the person that is hopefully championing the project from within the executive team.
If the project is large and taking substantial company resources, be that financial, people or both the project sponsor would preferably be visibly associated with the project and a vocal supporter.
The Project Sponsor will amongst other responsibilities:
- Sign-off the initial project scope, budget and timeline
- Approve the initial project plan
- Approve material changes to the original plan
- Be the go-to person for substantial challenges the project manager may face
- Sign-off the project completion or go-live if an IT project
On one large financial system project that I worked on – where I was the Functional Team Leader – the project sponsor was the European CFO. This was a $multi-billion company, at the project kick off meeting in London – we had the core project team on a video conference meeting with the global CFO in the USA. The CFO made it very clear he stood behind the European CFO in approving this project and its importance.
That is the kind of impact you want to see a project sponsor have. They support the project manager, encourage the project team at key stages of the project and ensure the other relevant members of the senior management team are aware of the project.
This kind of hands-on sponsorship means problems that arise for the project manager can more easily be managed. A troublesome colleague, additional resources, changes to the project timeline – core project issues like this can be raised with the project sponsor and with their emotional tie-in to the project they are motivated to help the project manager find appropriate solutions.
Conversely a project without a project sponsor can face an uphill battle right from the start. If there is no clear ownership of a project, or the project sponsor does not consider it a priority after the initial sign-off the project manager may find that when additional resources are required or there is an in-house conflict the problems fester and get worse until the project is noticeably off course.
The project sponsor is often the driver behind a project because it is a key aspect of implementing the company strategy that they have been party to setting. You should be able to relate the end output/goal of the project with a key aim of the project sponsors department. When the alignment is as clear as that and the project sponsor stands firmly behind the project manager having agreed the project plan the project starts off on a very positive path, one that be carried throughout the life of the project.