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Project Sponsorship: Dealing With Difficult Sponsors

Project Sponsorship: Dealing With Difficult Sponsors

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Last Updated March 5, 2024

When you examine the anatomy of a formal project, you’ll find that project sponsorship can make or break a project over the long haul. While the project manager is charged with keeping a project running smoothly and communicating shifting requirements, the sponsor of the project is the ultimate driver and champion. The role of project sponsorship involves outlining realistic goals and deliverables and providing support in obtaining the necessary resources to complete a project. However, some project managers may encounter project sponsors who make unreasonable demands, provide poor direction or offer no help in securing critical resources.

Obtaining Support From Your Project Sponsorship Champion

Ongoing support from those involved in project sponsorship is vital because the business world is dynamic, and priorities can shift. If the members of a project team are being pulled in different directions and instructed to focus on issues that are deemed more pressing, the project can lose momentum. Deadlines may be missed even when most of the team is actively working on the project, if they’re held up waiting for critical information they need to proceed. In such cases, someone needs to make the case to upper management for prioritizing the project or allocating more resources; this responsibility typically falls under the role of project sponsorship. When active support is not forthcoming, it puts the project manager in a tough position.

Dealing with difficult sponsors is challenging, but a skilled project manager needs to know how to handle them. This is why well-developed people skills are a must for all project managers. When the individual serving in a project sponsorship role is not proactively communicating the benefits and needs of the project to senior leadership, the project manager must get involved to request and secure the necessary support.

The best way to accomplish this is by providing the person responsible for project sponsorship with the ammunition he or she needs to make a compelling business case. If the project manager supplies succinct and powerful talking points that reinforce the value of the project, it makes it easy for the project sponsor to convey these concerns and requests to executive management and maintain support from the top down.

Coping With Vague Direction or Unrealistic Demands From Project Sponsorship

While lack of support is one obstacle, another challenge is when the individual in a project sponsorship role is vague about the project’s goals or has unrealistic expectations. In such situations, communication and patience are essential.

The project manager must ask the right questions to clarify the direction of a project. Working closely with his or her project sponsorship contact, the project manager should draft a clear outline of the expected outcomes and the steps necessary to achieve them. In cases where the project sponsorship leader seems to expect the impossible, the project manager must convincingly explain the limitations, as well as the additional time and resources it would require to meet such demands. It is important to stay positive and use hard information to help project sponsorship arrive at more reasonable expectations. When detailed explanations and well-founded counterarguments are delivered respectfully, most project sponsors will agree to scale back on overambitious goals.

Develop the Skills to Work Effectively With Your Project Sponsorship Counterpart

Project managers who seek guidance in dealing with difficult sponsors can turn to project management training. Issues pertaining to project sponsorship are one of the many topics covered in the online project management courses offered by Villanova University. Villanova offers a multi-course Certificate in Applied Project Management through a convenient, video-based e-learning platform. These online programs equip project managers with powerful tools and credentials, while preparing them to earn respected industry certification – providing a direct route to project management success.