The demand for project management roles is expected to grow by 6% by 2032. For busy agencies, this probably comes as no surprise; you already know just how critical PM roles are for a project’s success.
But while project managers are important for overseeing the entire project lifecycle and the team members who help execute the deliverables, there’s another crucial role above them that sets the overall project objectives, provides financial resources, and helps define and manage the project scope: the project sponsor.
What is a project sponsor?
A project sponsor is a person or organization who provides financial support, strategic planning, and leadership to ensure the project’s objectives are met. It’s a senior management role that either owns the project or is responsible for its successful completion.
They typically serve as the main point of contact between the project team and senior management. Project sponsors also establish the project plan, propose business case scenarios, and monitor project progress, performance, and profitability.
Project sponsor vs. project manager
It’s common to mix up the roles of a project sponsor and a project manager, but they are two distinct roles.
The sponsor is like a project visionary, setting the direction and providing the resources needed to execute the project. They’re often higher up in the management hierarchy and ensure the project aligns with the agency’s strategic objectives.
On the other hand, the manager takes the project sponsor’s vision and turns it into a reality. They’re responsible for the day-to-day project management, ensuring the team is on track to meet project objectives. They coordinate tasks, manage resources, and resolve issues during the project life cycle.
In short, the project sponsor is in charge of the why and the what, while the project manager is in charge of how.
Project sponsor vs. project owner
As you’ve probably gathered by now, a project sponsor is the mastermind behind the whole operation. They drive the project’s strategic direction, secure resources, and champion the project within the organization, working behind the scenes.
On the other hand, the project owner typically benefits from the project’s final deliverable. They have skin in the game and will be directly impacted by the project’s outcomes. The project owner will articulate their vision of the product, help define the project’s scope and requirements, and be actively involved in decision-making throughout the project charter.
Project sponsor vs. project stakeholder
You'll also encounter project stakeholders in the complex web of project management. A stakeholder can be anyone with a vested interest in the project, such as clients, project managers, suppliers, team members, customers, and investors. Now, you may ask, how does this differ from our star player, the project sponsor?
Well, the project sponsor is a key stakeholder, but not all stakeholders are project sponsors — it’s like a rectangle and square situation. The key difference is the level of involvement and decision-making authority.
A project sponsor has a vested interest and the power and responsibility to define project goals, make key decisions, and provide necessary resources. Stakeholders may influence the project’s direction and outcomes based on their interests, but don’t typically have the final say in project details — unless, of course, they’re also filling the shoes of a project sponsor.
What is the project sponsor’s role?
You now have an overview of the role and responsibilities of a project sponsor, but let's dive into the specifics of what a project sponsor does.
A project sponsor aims to provide and communicate a clear, compelling project vision. The vision should define the project’s purpose, goals, objectives, deliverables, and success criteria and how it fits into the agency’s broader strategic landscape.
A sponsor should articulate this vision to set expectations, provide guidance on project scope, and make sure everyone (internal and external stakeholders alike) is on the same page.
A project sponsor must ensure that the project aligns with the agency’s overall business objectives. This means connecting the dots between high-level strategies and project objectives to identify potential risks or improvement opportunities.
The sponsor must work closely with the agency owners and other senior-level personnel to identify resource constraints or conflicts with other projects. They also analyze the project’s potential return on investment (ROI) and find ways to optimize project performance.
A sponsor also advocates and secures the necessary resources — time, budget, and personnel — to ensure the success of the project. They need to stay in close contact with project team members to coordinate resources, set timelines, and resolve issues. To achieve this, sponsors should actively focus on decision-making, problem-solving, risk management, and resource allocation.
In an agency setup, think of the project sponsor as the communication maestro. They're like the bridge connecting the agency team, clients, and other key players.
Their job is to make sure everyone's on the same page. They define what the project should achieve, manage expectations, deal with risks, and allocate the right resources. Plus, they keep clients in the loop with updates, help sort out any disagreements, and ensure the project stays on course.
Essentially, they're the ones responsible for making sure the project not only meets its goals but also maintains great relationships with everyone involved.
Governance and compliance
Project governance and compliance with regulations and industry standards is also a critical part of a project sponsor’s role. This means they keep an eye on policies, manage risks related to compliance, and communicate with legal teams. Part of this entails staying updated on any changes in relevant industry regulations and governance and helping the agency adapt.
Finally, a project sponsor is in charge of measuring the success of a project. This includes tracking the benefits generated from the project (i.e., cost savings, increased efficiency, client/agency satisfaction, profitability, etc.) and using those metrics to inform future project strategies.
Responsibilities of a project sponsor in the project lifecycle
A project life cycle has five key phases: initiation, planning, execution, controlling, and closure. Let’s explore the responsibilities of a project sponsor through each stage.
The initiation phase is when the project sponsor puts their vision into action. They’ll define the scope and objectives of the project, conduct afeasibility analysis, identify stakeholders, and develop a high-level plan.
Developing a project charter outlining objectives, scope, deliverables, roles, and timeline
Identifying roles and responsibilities for different stakeholders
Establishing success criteria and KPIs for the project
Setting up communication protocols
Here, the sponsor sets up the framework for success. They review workflow processes, create a detailed plan with timelines and resource allocations, and develop risk management plans.
Creating an actionable project plan that clearly outlines tasks, dependencies, and resources
Assigning roles and responsibilities to the project team based on their expertise and availability
Establishing a risk management plan to identify and mitigate potential threats to project success
This is where the project sponsor brings their plans and processes to life. They manage and coordinate agency resources, review tasks and progress, monitor budget spending, and strategize around possible roadblocks.
Monitoring and communicating progress to other stakeholders through regular meetings, check-ins, and project reports
Managing resources and ensuring the team has everything they need to complete tasks on time and within budget
Identifying and resolving bottlenecks in the project workflow
During the control phase of the project, the sponsor works to keep the project on track. They’ll check in with stakeholders and team members, assess progress, address budget/cost variances, adjust timelines and resources as needed, and ensure nothing slips through the cracks.
Monitoring project progress against goals and objectives by tracking resource utilization, task completion rates, and budget variances
Adjusting the project plan as needed to accommodate changes in scope, timeline, and resources
Implementing quality assurance techniques to ensure the project meets standards and compliance regulations
The closing phase is the ultimate test of a project sponsor’s skills. Here, they ensure that all deliverables meet expectations, evaluate successes and failures, document lessons learned, and create reports to communicate results before handing the project over to the client.
Conducting a project performance analysis that evaluates the project’s overall success and identifies any areas for improvement
Creating a post-project report that documents lessons learned, processes and procedures, successes and failures, and final recommendations
Closing out contracts and formal documents, including vendor agreements, invoices, and other paperwork, before handing over the project to the owner
What makes an effective project sponsor?
An effective project sponsor, particularly in an agency setting, must bring together the right mix of project management, business acumen, and interpersonal skills. They must also be able to navigate complex stakeholder relationships, handle risks and changes with finesse, and use data and metrics to guide their decisions.
Here are some key qualities of an effective project sponsor:
A strong working knowledge of project management processes and procedures
A knack for creative problem-solving, conflict resolution, and decision-making
Excellent leadership, communication, and negotiating skills
Proficiency in risk assessment and management
The ability to handle a wide range of stakeholders with tact and diplomacy
A team player mentality and the ability to inspire and motivate a project team
An analytical mind that is comfortable working with data and metrics
Ability to quickly and confidently respond to changes in scope, timeline, and resources
All in all, an effective project sponsor is a leader who can guide the project to success. They consider all stakeholders' needs, manage risks and changes with confidence, and set a clear vision for the project that aligns with the company’s goals and objectives.
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Project sponsorship involves a lot more than just delegating tasks and tracking progress. It’s about understanding the nuances of team dynamics and working with stakeholders to ensure the project is on track for success.
Teamwork.com is a powerful project management and operations platform that can help agency project sponsors navigate these complexities and lead their teams to success. With intuitive task management templates, advanced collaboration features, and real-time analytics, Teamwork.com allows project sponsors to easily assign tasks, track progress, facilitate communication, and monitor team performance.