Ways to manage your Project Sponsor

Have you considered how you can strengthen your relationship with your Project Sponsor?  In this episode of Project Management Insights, I offer you ways to go about gaining a valuable understanding of your sponsor and what works for them.

It’s all about setting up a win/win situation so that they get what they need, and you get what you need.  They get to trust you and know that you are capable and able to do your job, and you get the ability to do that, your job, without interference.

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Podcast Script

Hi. Welcome to Project Management Insights podcast number five, winning with your project sponsor. Tonight I’m going to talk to you about a number of things that I do in order to have my project sponsor right beside me every step of the way during the life of our project.

Note my use of words here. The key for me is them, my project sponsor, feeling as though there’s a partnership between the two of us in order to deliver this business change. They need to see me is on their side, working with them and an extension of their own business, not just a contractor or external team member who has been brought in to do a job, and this is really, really key and really valuable in building this strong relationship with them. So here are some questions to ask yourself in order to be in a winning space.

Do you have a project sponsor that fully understands their role? You know what I mean by that? What it means for them to be the project sponsor, and how they are supporting the project and you in the way that they operate, in the day to day operation of your project.

Do they know what it means to let you manage the project? We have all had them, those project sponsors that tend to want to know all the detail, and stick their fingers in and interfere, talk to people when they shouldn’t because they believe that’s their job, when in fact it’s your job because you’re the project manager.

Do they understand their needs in terms of what they want from you as a person managing their project? By this I mean, what is it that they want back from you? What information do they want from you? What do they want to hear from you? How often do they want to see you? How often do they want to talk to you in order to be comfortable and trusting that you ARE managing the project?

Have you had the conversation with your project sponsor about your background, if they don’t know you and what you bring to the table as a PM? This might be really, really key. Perhaps they don’t understand the depth of skills and knowledge that you have, especially if you’re a consultant or a contractor that’s coming external to the business and you don’t know this person.

Have you spoken to them honestly about their experiences, if any, in being a project sponsor before? You might find this is the first time they’ve been a project sponsor and therefore they’ve got no idea what it actually means. What it means to work with a project manager. What it means to understand what their needs are and what they’re going to need from you. A lot of education required here.

Have you talked to them about what a good working relationship between you would look like, for them? What are their needs in terms of you providing them with information, updates and details of any issues that arise? What format do they want this information in? Do you schedule a regular short catch up with them? Do you send them email updates on a regular basis? Do they want you to call them at a set time every day or a couple of days for a quick phone chat? How do you get to them if there’s a serious risk that arises on the project, that you need their support to manage? These are all questions it is really valuable to ask them and to gain that really clear understanding of so that you then know and they know exactly the way you both going to work in this relationship.

Have you discussed their role in helping you in dealing with other PCB members? It’s really important that they know that sometimes they might have to go into bat for you. Those people who might not be happy or need more senior management advice, playing politics, in other words, because they don’t necessarily trust you as the project manager.

Have you talked to your sponsor about their role in the organization and what it means to them to have this project delivered? Their reputation might be hanging on this. You don’t even know that until you ask that question. Have you asked them what sort of material you can provide to them in order to publicize the fact that the project’s being delivered? Maybe they don’t want the business and the other areas of the business to know that and maybe it’s going to be fabulous for their reputation and their business areas reputation if the project is known about widely in the business because of the value it’s going to add.

Have you spoken to them about the change management aspects of the project? If you haven’t got a change manager on the project team, this is really, really key because part of your deliverable is getting to that place that we spoke about a couple of sessions ago around how do you manage the behaviour change in order to determine and ensure the success of your project?

Have you asked about their staff commitments to the project? If they happen to also be the business owner of the area, taking ownership of the project, the delivered project. This is really, really important because they’re going to want to ensure that their businesses usual activities continue, and yet some of their staff might also be involved in your project team. You don’t want conflict. You want to know that the staff are there for you when you need to get to them. This is key if their SME’s are on your project.

Building trust is a really crucial part of setting this relationship up to win. So, are you trustworthy? What can you do to change it, if you’re not? Do you follow through when you say you will? Do you tell them the truth? Would you normally tell them the truth even when it’s not good news? Are you honest, all the time with them? Really important things to consider and think about and if they’re not, if it’s not currently the case, then you might want to really consider how you can change those areas to build a more trusting relationship with your project sponsor.

Remember the topic of podcast two about the different types of learning styles. You might want to go back and listen to that if it’s something that you didn’t really pick up on. As you might know, note and want to have a look at the show notes or podcast script in order to understand your sponsors learning style, so that perhaps you can switch to a different form of delivering messages and information to them, in the best way that suits their learning style.

Another key thing is to be dependable. Be available for your project sponsor. Make them a priority rather than getting too caught up in the doing, of managing your project. You’ll be glad that you did because they will be there for you when you need them.

One of the smartest things I’ve done was had a 10-minute daily early morning chat with my sponsor. He was always open to chatting with me prior to his busy day starting. It meant that he was on top of the project status all the time so that if he was asked by anyone, in the corridor, for instance, about the project, he always knew what the status was; what was happening; how it was going, any key issues. It made him look very informed and informative. And, it was also a key way for me to keep him informed and understanding the critical nature of our project delivery.

Winning your project sponsor is important. Working with them and taking them on the ride. Being beside them and walking the path of this project with them is key to your successful delivery.