Project LeadershipProject Management

How to Deal with a Disengaged Sponsor

Is your sponsor too busy to actually do any sponsoring on your project? Or maybe your sponsor is a flake, unable to stick with commitments. What can be done when a lack of sponsorship puts the project at risk? Project leadership coach Susanne Madsen explains how to handle disengaged sponsors in a post at her blog.

Reboot the Sponsor

If you as the project manager need the sponsorship on your project to improve, then the burden of talking to the sponsor about it falls on you. Yes, it might be uncomfortable to have a conversation along the lines of, “There are a lot of things I need from you, and you are sucking at delivering on any of it,” but obviously some tact on your part can alleviate the pressure. Additionally, you should keep in mind that there are many sponsors who do not truly understand what the role entails. It could be an innocent mistake on their part, stemming from ignorance. Compare notes about what you think the sponsor role is compared to what the sponsor thinks the sponsor role is, and then gently try to reconcile the differences.

After that, “be diplomatic but specific” about what action you are hoping for the sponsor to take moving forward:

Is this about chairing the monthly steering committee meetings, attending project definition workshops and championing the business case, or is the important point that she needs to make herself more available as a sounding board for ad-hoc queries and issues that are beyond you to resolve? It would also be helpful if you talk about the benefits to the project if she were to be more engaged. She needs to realise that her role carries real significance. And don’t forget to highlight times when you felt that she gave the team really good and clear direction. That will help her to understand what good sponsorship looks like in practice.

Empathy is always key in productive conversation. When you talk to the sponsor, no matter how disengaged he or she has been up till now, remember that the two of you are still on the same side. There is no need for animosity from either side.

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