Seeking Project Champions

Insights | 05 December 2017

If given the chance to find your own project sponsor, would you?

Where would you start?

How would you be certain you’ve found the right one?

If it sounds like a high-stress game, that’s because it is. Securing the right project sponsor or “champion” is crucial to delivering a successful project. One Project Management Institute study[1] found some 30 percent of unsuccessful projects failed “due to poorly engaged executive sponsors.”

And getting the right sponsor gets more challenging the higher up you go in the corporate food chain. Top execs are busy people. The most-sought after sponsors are likely to be overextended already, but that shouldn’t dissuade you from trying. Here are some insights and tips to help you land the champion you and your project deserve.

Know what you are looking for

Great sponsors can be found throughout organisations. It’s not always about title. Here are the traits you really need:

  • Look for the executives people always want to work with. When they talk up your project – as they should – people will listen. If called upon, could they remove roadblocks?
  • A great project champion helps you see risks and opportunities you may have missed.
  • Executive engagement is bottom-line driven. Does this potential sponsor have some “skin in the game” when it comes to your project? This shouldn’t feel like charity.
  • You’ll want a sponsor who isn’t afraid to give candid feedback but who isn’t interested in micro-managing either. The right sponsor will feel more “coach” than “boss.”

To break it down even further, here’s how one Six Sigma interpretation[2] framed it, with five essential qualities:

  • Responsibility
  • Influence
  • Authority
  • Enthusiasm
  • Resources

A study[3] on the impact of effective project sponsorship compared the project manager-sponsor relationship to that of a family: “A project manager and sponsor must feel the project is their own, like parents to a child. It must be supported when it needs additional work or resources and defended cohesively if it begins to slip.”

Hone your elevator pitch

If a potential sponsor isn’t sold on the merits of your project, no one else will be. So, when you go to pitch for their involvement, lean into this timeless advice: “Know your audience.” No matter the title, every champion will need to understand the wider business objectives here. What’s the return on investment? Focus on the specific business problem your project will solve and the exact level of investment needed, both for the project itself and from the project sponsor. Resist the urge to get technical if that’s not the sponsor’s main focus.

In speaking to ZDNet[4], Poli Avramidis, ‎CIO at General Council of the Bar of England and Wales, frames the art of effective pitching this way: “You have to see things from other c-suite executives’ points of view. You need to understand the thinking processes of others, particularly in regards to how technology makes sense for other lines of business.”

Make the relationship work

You’d think after all this hard work no project manager would leave their project champion in the dark, but it does happen. No matter how busy your sponsor may seem, they need to be plugged in at all times, but there are plenty of wrong ways to go about this. Assess the medium and the message. A 30-minute sit down meeting every week? Probably unrealistic. A weekly email exchange that you begin with a sharp and focused executive summary? Better. Don’t be afraid to explicitly ask how your sponsor would like to stay updated and how frequently.

Key Takeaways

  • Sponsorship matters. The right sponsor really can make or break a project.
  • Stay accountable. Your sponsor can’t be an effective champion if the project is failing on the basics. Put your best foot forward.
  • Get smart on change management. Your project is likely to require some level of change in order to be successful. Be proactive and partner with your new sponsor to tackle change management head on. If you feel like you need more training in this regard, our experts can help. See our change management courses[5] taught by our skilled facilitators.

In Conclusion

Every person and every project benefits from guidance and support. If your project is worth doing, it’s worth the time and energy to find a great executive sponsor. In the end, you want an advocate, someone who will speak truth to power, and someone who can balance your strengths and weaknesses as a project manager. In other words, a true team effort.

For advice and guidance on executive sponsorship speak to us today. 1300 70 13 14.

[5] /grouped-course/change-management-foundation-and-practitioner

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Enquire Now


1300 70 13 14


Stay Informed

Subscribe to our newsletter and receive quarterly industry news updates and stay informed of forthcoming PM-Partners group events.