Project & Programme Management

Project sponsor - roles & responsibilities explained

Learn more about the responsibilities that come with being a project sponsor, including the skills needed to succeed in this key project management position.

What is Project Sponsor?

The role of a project sponsor is to provide resources and support to the project team, ensuring the success of a project and making sure it aligns with the business’ vision and mission, which makes them an integral part of any organisation.

Some of a sponsor’s key responsibilities include defining the success criteria and objectives of a project, appointing the best team members to execute and achieve this, and offering guidance to the team when necessary.

An actively engaged sponsor is the dominant driver of projects meeting their original goals, so their involvement within the wider team has a huge impact on the final outcome. Effective project sponsors possess strong leadership and project management skills - a necessity to guide any team to success!

What does a project sponsor do? 

So, we know how important a project sponsor is, but what exactly do they do? Put simply, a project sponsor is a senior management professional, responsible for the overall success of a project. They have the authority to make key decisions and help shape both the strategic direction of each project and their organisation.

A project sponsor typically comes up with the initial idea of a project, or at least advocates for it. They are often the reason for a project’s existence, and as a result, have a vested interest in it. They guide the project right through to the end, ensuring it aligns with the business’ goals throughout.

Taking accountability is crucial for a project sponsor - they must take responsibility for allocating resources appropriately, ensuring work is governed effectively and make sure that the desired outcomes are actually achievable. This also means that if at any stage, the project no longer aligns with the company’s interests, the sponsor should be quick to recognise it and advocate for it to end.

Project Sponsor Responsibilities

A well-informed project sponsor can add lots of value to a project, but it’s important to clearly define their responsibilities and any expectations to avoid miscommunication.

The responsibilities of a project sponsor can be split into three categories:

1 – Project Vision

The project sponsor should always be evaluating the ever-evolving landscape of the business, as well as current and upcoming industry trends to assess the viability for each project. They must be a strategic thinker, working alongside other leaders to make sure each project is aligned with their business’ strategy and objectives, while also identifying and prioritising which projects have the most potential.

2 – Project Governance

They need to ensure the project is planned and initiated properly, and that the correct policies and procedures are in place and adhered to. The sponsor also manages the resources, and they must have the capacity to act as an escalation point for the project manager if any issues arise.

3 – Project Value

Defining the project goals, evaluating the progress, and measuring the success of each project through KPIs are also important responsibilities for the sponsor. This creates a more unified approach within the wider team, and they can leverage this information to inform and improve future projects.

These responsibilities can be broken down further when considering some of the day-to-day operations in the initiation, planning, execution and closing phases of a project:

  • Organisational-specific context

The project sponsor needs to have a deep understanding of the culture, structure, strengths, and challenges within their organisation. This knowledge will help them implement more effective strategies alongside the other executives.

  • Risk Management

Identifying and assessing any potential risks that might arise from the project, but also being agile and resolving any that stem during each project when raised by the project manager is another key responsibility.

  • Displaying the correct behaviours

The project sponsor should be adaptable and take on the roles required of them (such as a delegator or a communicator) during all project phases to ensure they reinforce a positive environment for the wider team.

  • Effective decision-making

Informed decision-making throughout each project is necessary for the project manager to ensure its success, including deciding when to change or stop the project.

  • Leadership

Throughout all the project phases, the project sponsor must demonstrate effective leadership of the project, so the project manager and the wider team have a strong sense of direction and know what goals they’re working towards.

How does a project sponsor fit into the project lifecycle?

Let’s explore some of the distinct roles within project management and how they work together:

A project manager’s role is to organise, track, and lead their team to work within a project on a day-to-day level, while the project sponsor, the senior individual who appointed them to work on the project, provides them support.

A product owner is typically an individual responsible for managing the product backlog, with the authority to make project-related decisions, whereas the project sponsor focuses on the overall success of a project at a strategic level, with more decision-making authority.

A project stakeholder is anyone who can be affected by the outcome of a project, such as customers, suppliers, or other third parties, but they aren’t actually involved in the process like the project sponsor.

What qualifications do you need to become a project sponsor?

26% of organisations report that inadequate sponsor support is the primary cause of failed projects, so it’s important you have the right person for the job.

Sponsors are generally senior individuals within your organisation, which means they already have lots of experience and knowledge in leadership and strategic planning. So, they may not appreciate being asked to sit a training course on how to be a sponsor. That being said, successful project sponsors generally have reached certain career milestones that help them excel in this role, including working in less senior project management roles like as a project manager.

The involvement of an effective project sponsor will ensure projects are aligned with an organisation’s long-term goals from the beginning of a project to its completion. They have lots of important responsibilities to lead each project to success, but they can’t do it all alone. Collaboration will help foster an adaptive environment, ensuring everyone is on the same page and any issues are handled promptly.

Learn more about how this role fits into the Agile workstream by reading the latest State of Agile report.