Managing up

what are your best tips for engaging a project sponsor?


A project manager's relationship with an executive project sponsor hangs in a delicate balance. From coaxing a tentative sponsor to delivering on ever-changing demands, project managers must be prepared to do whatever it takes to keep these execs on board. So we asked: What are your best tips for engaging a project sponsor?

“Trust is critical. If the sponsor trusts me to run with the team, his or her trust engenders trust from other managers (including my boss, and my boss's boss). Build trust by getting work done, working with the team, setting clear deadlines and achieving what needs to be achieved. Let them know when a critical decision needs their input. And stop by on occasion just to say ‘hi’.

I like to learn from my sponsor, since he has a wealth of knowledge of state accounting and budgeting. His input is helpful even if I only absorb a portion of what I hear.”

—Courtney Brooks, PMP, IT project portfolio manager, Department of Environmental Quality, Portland, Oregon, USA

Earn Their Confidence

“Structured and timely communication helps gain the project sponsor's confidence. Keep him or her engaged using weekly executive summaries resulting from the team status report. Summarize the project's health and highlight key issues and risks with mitigation strategies and resolution plans.

Also provide a monthly 30-minute status update to the sponsor. This gives the team an opportunity to address any questions he or she may have, get direction and assess the sponsor's confidence level.

During vendor selection on a recent project, for example, the sponsor provided key inputs on portfolio integrated solutions. That led to successful project delivery, and the sponsor was able to extend another large-scale project to the team. The confidence displayed by the sponsor itself was a major motivating factor.”

—Faisal Y Patel, PMP, vice president of technology projects at Bank of America, Agoura Hills, California, USA


Put All the Cards on the Table

“In an agile work environment, we must break from traditional ways of dealing with projects. For example, a traditional perspective is that the project sponsor has a passive role in the development of the project and hardly participates in the solutions.

On one occasion, I participated in a project where the requirements were being systematically violated due to a lack of scope detail. At that time, the sponsor had little trust in me or my team. That made getting the information required to solve the problem difficult.

We were sincere with the sponsor and exposed every limitation that prevented us from coming up with a concrete solution. After this, with transparency as a core value, we demonstrated our clear commitment to doing our best to achieve the objective. By involving the sponsor, we managed to understand each other and work toward a common goal.

With a transparent approach, this new paradigm seeks the sponsor's active participation, raising his or her level of involvement based on trust and a clear focus on results.”

—Javier Mauricio Sánchez Londoño, PMP, senior development manager, ARSHumano, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

3 Reasons to Increase Sponsor Engagement

There's more than one good reason to keep an executive sponsor interested in a project, according to the Pulse of the Profession® In-Depth Report: Executive Sponsor Engagement—Top Driver of Project and Program Success:

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Most organizations say sponsorship is more important today than it was five to 10 years ago. Fewer than two-thirds of projects and programs have assigned executive sponsors. unsuccessful projects fails to meet goals due to poorly engaged sponsors.

Find out more about how executive sponsors can take projects from not-so-stellar to noteworthy by visiting

Adjust Your Style

“Every project sponsor wants to feel like he or she is your only client. There may be times when adapting and modifying your personal style is necessary once you become aware of the effect you have on other people, while still being true to yourself.

I adopted this approach while working with a high-energy, somewhat demanding, spontaneous project sponsor. After observing his tendencies and behavior over a period of time, I noticed he enjoyed leading conversations and being in the spotlight. I adjusted my leadership style to allow him the opportunity to contribute in a manner that validated his participation. This created a direct line of communication where we regularly exchanged phone conversations, candidly shared concerns and negotiated solutions. He brought an element of fun to the project with his vibrant personality and we shared many laughs, which made the process enjoyable.

Being attentive can help foster a fruitful relationship with the project sponsor. This was also true on another implementation. Through lunches, dinners and casual conversations, I developed a strong working relationship with a sponsor. I got to know her and her family personally. After the project ended, she shared the following sentiment with our organization: ‘It's a rare treat to implement a new system and realize one of the greatest benefits gained are life-long friends.’ ”

—Yolonda A. Swain, PMP, engagement leader, Automatic Data Processing, Atlanta, Georgia, USA

Fostering Engagement

How have you built a strong relationship with a project sponsor? Share your tips and tricks on the PMI Project, Program and Portfolio Management LinkedIn Group.