Executive Order

We Asked the Project Management Community: How Do You Determine When It's Necessary to Escalate Decisions to Project Sponsors?



I escalate decisions when it's outside of my area of control or the agreed tolerances or boundaries I have with my sponsor—even if these are informal and undocumented. For example, on a recent project to deliver a process change, we realized that a particular solution that had already been approved by the sponsor wasn't going to work in every situation. We knew we had to go back to the drawing board. But, because that meant a change in approach for the project and deviating from the approved solution, that was a decision the sponsor needed to make. Once the project board and sponsor had reviewed the new solution and approved it, the team was able to keep the project moving forward.”

—Elizabeth Harrin, director, The Otobos Group, Horsham, England


I never want sponsors and key stakeholders to be surprised. If something does need to be escalated, they usually know it's a risk and we've talked about possible mitigations. But when surprises do pop up, I will work quickly with the team on options for resolution and then bring our official recommendation to the sponsor. My conversations are short but factual, and I don't place blame or point fingers. Their job at that point is to help resolve the problem.”

—Jason Orloske, PMP, manager, project management, Aldevron, Fargo, North Dakota, USA




First of all, the project manager should gain the trust of the sponsor and sustain it from initiation through closure. This helps ensure that he or she can escalate the issue at the right time. But you can't escalate every decision to the project sponsor, or else you will lose their attention when it's really necessary to escalate. Project managers should escalate decisions to the project sponsor when the following issues occur:

■ The problem impacts the ability to procure funding, commit resources or achieve project success.

■ There is no project support throughout the organization.

■ The decision requires authorization to change scope.

■ The decision will resolve a go/no-go situation.”

—Ipek Sahra Özgüler, PMP, project manager, Halkbank project management office, Ankara, Turkey


I have a biweekly management attention call with the sponsors where we only talk about blockers and decisions—or how to address risks and problems. These meetings are typically when I'll escalate an issue—unless a risk is so big that it can't wait until the meeting. I'll escalate only those issues or risks that heavily impact the timeline, budget or scope. Every item is analyzed and categorized as high-, medium- or low-risk, and we analyze the impact analysis and mitigations plans.”

—Fernando Perez, PMP, regional project manager, Citi, Buenos Aires, Argentina


Any decision that can impact business value in terms of cost, schedule or scope should be escalated to the sponsor. To get the immediate attention of the sponsor—and a quick response—the escalation should be requested face-to-face or via phone. Then, a follow-up email can include a request for a decision within the subject line.”

—Charanjeet Singh, PMP, project manager, Wawanesa Insurance, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada


I escalate only when a key stakeholder deliberately hinders the implementation of something specific in the project management plan. One example is a client refusing to formally accept deliverables during the validate scope process even after the deliverables passed through the control quality process. Before I escalate, I would identify each risk associated with these stakeholders and prepare responses to these risks in the plan to recommend to the sponsor.”

—Talal Benothman, PMP, general manager, design, Dar Al Riyadh Engineering and Architecture, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia


What other approaches can help project managers know when it's time to escalate decisions with project sponsors? Share your tips on the PMI Project, Program and Portfolio Management LinkedIn Group.

Support System

Having actively engaged executive sponsors can help remove roadblocks and clear the path for improved project performance.


of projects have actively engaged executive sponsors.


of organizations say that inadequate sponsor support is the primary cause of failed projects.


of projects and programs are assigned executive sponsors in champion* organizations.

*Champions: Organizations with 80 percent or more of projects being completed on time, on budget, meeting business intent and having high benefits realization maturity.

Source: Pulse of the Profession®: Success in Disruptive Times: Expanding the Value Delivery Landscape to Address the High Cost of Low Performance, PMI, 2018



Related Content

  • Project Management Journal

    People as Our Most Important Asset member content locked

    By Dupret, katia | Pultz, Sabina In this article, we examine how employees experience different types of work commitment at an IT consultancy company using agility to give staff greater autonomy and decision-making latitude.

  • Project Management Journal

    Blockchain Technology for Projects member content locked

    By Lu, Weisheng | Wu, Liupengfei | Xue, Fan This research aims to develop a multicriteria decision matrix (MCDM) for project management practitioners, supporting blockchain type selection.

  • Project Management Journal

    Top Ten Behavioral Biases in Project Management member content locked

    By Flyvbjerg, Bent This article identifies the 10 most important behavioral biases for project management.

  • Project Management Journal

    Perceived Complexity of a Project’s Optimal Work Plan Influences Its Likelihood of Adoption by Project Managers member content locked

    By Brokman-Meltzer, Mor | Perez, Dikla | Gelbard, Roy Perceived complexity is a factor when project managers adopt suboptimal work plans, even when optimal plans are readily accessible.

  • Survival of the Fittest member content open

    By Viturro, Leonor Today's constantly changing world presents companies with the challenge of answering rapidly to uncertain and fluctuating scenarios. Traditional organizational structures and decision-making…