Project Management

10 Do’s and Don’ts for the Executive Sponsor

Leadership speaker Art Petty humbly admits that, the first time he was placed in an executive sponsor role, he did not actually know what the job entailed. He thought being a sponsor was largely a “ceremonial” thing. As enlightened managers know—that is not the case. In a post at his website, Petty shares five dos and five don’ts for the actions sponsors must take in order to be successful.

Sponsors, Do These!

  1. Explore the different views of the role.
  2. Ask what the project manager needs in order to be successful.
  3. Work with the project manager to establish a communication protocol.
  4. Include an emergency protocol in the communication plan.
  5. Acknowledge your accountability for project outcome.

Search online or ask among colleagues how much can really fall under the umbrella of executive sponsorship. Perhaps not every one of these responsibilities will really fall upon your shoulders, but it is still on you to be aware. Likewise, ask the project manager specifically what he or she needs to make the project a success. Get clear about the roles that you expect each other to fulfill.

Another thing to agree upon is frequency and depth of communication. Find the rhythm where just enough information is shared without being overbearing or, conversely, nebulous. On top of that, agree how the project manager should handle situations where you are unavailable, such as when you are traveling. Empower the project manager to act in your absence.

And about acknowledging accountability, Petty says this:

Yes, the project manager requires superhuman skills to navigate the many, many challenging tasks of a complex, strategic project[;] however, you own ensuring that the big pieces are in place and working. From ensuring clarity around charter, scope, and customer to supporting and ensuring the emergence of a high-performance team and defending the team against the inevitable second-guessers and myriad of corporate distractions and land-mines, you are there to enable success. Take this job seriously!

Sponsors, Don’t Do These!

  1. Attempt to do the project manager’s job.
  2. Assume a high-performance team will just happen.
  3. Assume everyone on the project understands your role.
  4. Hide behind your title.
  5. Forget to help the team celebrate.

Part of “taking the job seriously” as a sponsor is knowing that the project manager is competent and can handle his or her own work. Do not do the project manager’s job. If you can find ways to coach the team and help them grow into high-performers though, that would be terrific. And if anyone is wondering, articulate for the team what you intend to do for them as sponsor. Embrace feedback, especially mid-stream, about how you can improve your contributions. Then, when all is said and done and the project is a success, help pay for the celebratory grub.

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