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What is a Project Sponsor? Roles & Responsibilities of Project Sponsors

Where does a project begin and where does it end? With a project sponsor. 

Anything from building the Golden Gate Bridge to throwing a birthday party can be considered a project. Whatever the nature of the project, it involves numerous stakeholders throughout its lifecycle.

Of them all, we’d argue that the most important one is the project sponsor. Let’s see how.

What is a Project Sponsor?

A project sponsor initiates the project and approves deliverables. They are a business stakeholder responsible for planning and delivering a successful project. They often belong to the senior leadership team, with significant influence and authority, even though they don’t have any direct managerial responsibility for the project itself.

For a services organization, a project sponsor might belong to an external entity, typically the client. A project sponsor is internal within a product organization, sometimes known as the project owner.

Project Sponsor vs Project Manager

As both the project sponsor and project manager are leadership roles, they are often confused with each other. Let’s clarify the differences first.

Project sponsorProject manager
Senior leader in the organizationLeader of the project, typically not as senior as the project sponsor
Can be internal or externalTypically internal to the project-delivering organization
Responsible for strategic activities and deliverablesResponsible for day-to-day management of the project
Initiates the projectExecutes the project
Approves the projectApproves tasks within the project
Difference between a project sponsor and project manager

While the project sponsor differs from the project manager in distinct ways, their collaboration is fundamental to the project’s success. 

A sponsor defines the goals and scope of the project while a project manager executes it. They track project metrics such as time to market or customer satisfaction. 

On the other hand, the project manager tracks project-level metrics such as developer productivity and code quality, which contribute to high-level business metrics.

A sponsor approves the budget, timelines, etc., but the project manager decides if they need additional resources and makes those requests. 

Together, a sponsor and manager are responsible for project management. A project’s success requires them to work together to understand each other’s priorities. 

Project Sponsor vs Project Stakeholder

‘Stakeholder’ is an umbrella term used for anyone involved in the project. This can be a team member, supervisor, manager, partner, vendor, customer, government authority, or any intermediary.

In that sense, a project sponsor is also a project stakeholder. However, not all stakeholders are sponsors.

Roles of a Project Sponsor

Business leadership

Project sponsorship is more than just paying for it. The project sponsor acts as a liaison between business and tech. They offer insights and guidance from a business perspective. They will guide the execution team about the customer, organization, business strategy, and go-to-market plans.

Let’s say a retail company comes to a technology company to develop a point of sale (POS) solution. The project sponsor, a senior leader within the retail company, will brief the tech company about the product’s users, workflow, integration requirements, etc. 

While they might not specify the technical requirements, they are responsible for ensuring the product meets business needs.

Enabling flow of information

ClickUp User Research Plan Template
ClickUp Docs to manage user research plans and surveys

Throughout the project, they ensure a seamless flow of information between stakeholders. They connect team members with the resources and experts they need.

For example, they might connect the user research team with the right target audience to conduct surveys or monitor behavior.

Project oversight

A project sponsor is responsible for setting objectives and identifying success metrics. Once the project team returns with the plan, they review the scope and approve the kick-off.

From time to time, they conduct reviews and retrospectives with the project team to ensure they stay on track. They also actively eliminate roadblocks along the way. They are accountable for project performance.

High-level decision-making

Decision Tree Whiteboard
ClickUp Whiteboard to brainstorm the decision tree

They make high-level decisions about the project budgets and project direction. They are also responsible for approving big requests from the project team for additional resources, deadline extensions, etc. 

Project managers can build decision trees to help sponsors make important decisions, outlining the implications of these decisions.

Final validation

A project sponsor holds the authority to approve project deliverables. They verify if the deliverable meets the technical and business requirements. A project needs its sponsor’s sign-off on project closure and payments. 

Several of these roles and responsibilities might overlap with a project manager or any other stakeholder. So, let’s first clarify the differences.

Importance of Having a Project Sponsor

The role of a project sponsor isn’t as commonly seen as you would a project manager. Considering the strategic nature of the project sponsor’s role, it is often overlooked. 

In some cases, it is also weakly defined. The role of a project sponsor is piled on a senior leader already holding various other responsibilities. This only hinders the success of the project. Here’s how.

Business alignment: Whether you’re building technology or designing a new logo, project sponsors are important to ensure that the project meets business needs.

Relationship management: A project sponsor maintains healthy relationships with key stakeholders such as the client, vendors, and government authorities. They enable effective project collaboration.

Approvals and funding: They are in charge of approving budgets, releasing funds, and negotiating additional requests, if any.

Conflict resolution: When there is a high-level difference of opinion, a project sponsor builds consensus and makes difficult decisions. For example, if there is ambiguity in how a feature is defined, causing confusion among the tech teams, the project sponsor helps clarify. They play a crucial role in ensuring the project doesn’t stall.

Championing the cause: They champion the project and its purpose among senior leadership and the board, bringing visibility and engagement from key stakeholders. They ensure that the project gets the recognition it deserves.

Responsibilities of a Project Sponsor During Various Stages of a Project

Now that we know the overall role and purpose of a project sponsor let’s look into their responsibilities throughout the various stages of the project: Initiation, planning, execution, and project closure.

Project initiation

The project sponsor responsibilities in initiating the project include: 

  • Defining project objectives and scope
  • Signing off on the project charter
  • Explaining the business requirements and expected outcomes
  • Transferring high-level information to the project team about the business and the customer

Sometimes, they appoint the project manager and guide them through hiring and onboarding team members.

Project planning

ClickUp Project Plan Template
Give the project sponsor a clear and organized view of the project plan

Once the project is initiated, the sponsor acts as a project champion. They are no longer involved in the nitty-gritty activities. They steer the project planning phase and drive it to execution.

  • Provide inputs needed to plan the project
  • Set baseline for metrics
  • Ensure the project plan is in line with the business plan
  • Review requests and give approvals

Project execution

Here, the project sponsor role is even more limited. Yet, they work closely with the project manager to ensure smooth execution.

  • Monitor progress from time to time
  • Track project metrics and provide feedback
  • Ensure that the project is moving in the right direction at the right pace
  • Evaluate and approve requests from the project team for additional resources or budgets
  • Resolve conflicts between stakeholders, if any

Project closure

A project sponsor closes the project. They are responsible for:

  • Evaluating project deliverables against business requirements
  • Measuring project outcomes
  • Signing off on delivery
  • Approving formal project closure and payments

Ways to Work Effectively with Project Sponsors

Every project manager works with sponsors regularly, at least monthly, if not weekly. However, their relationship is not straightforward.

The project manager collaborates with the project sponsor on information-sharing, understanding business requirements, and solving problems. The role of project sponsors is to set the project manager up for success.

Yet, project sponsors are senior leaders with more authority than the manager. The project manager presents progress, outcomes, and data for review. The project manager reports to the sponsor in this capacity, even if this is not a manager-subordinate relationship.

Navigation this relationship can be complex. Here are ways project managers can work effectively with project sponsors.

Organize the project

Break down your projects into tasks, subtasks, and nested subtasks in ClickUp
Create tasks and sub-tasks with ClickUp

First and foremost, the project sponsor needs visibility. They need to know how the project will be executed. Use a comprehensive project management software like ClickUp to organize the project. With ClickUp, you can:

  • Break the project into tasks and sub-tasks
  • Write descriptions for each task to clarify the requirements for your team members; the sponsor can validate, if needed
  • Set start and end dates for each task
  • Include priorities, dependencies, and tags

If you’re an independent agency or freelancer, your client is likely to be your project sponsor. In such cases, try project management software for small businesses to organize yourself.

Present your plans

Use ClickUp to forecast project requirements. Then, present your plans to the project sponsor and get their approval. Once you’ve set up the project on ClickUp, use the Gantt chart view to visualize it over time.

Use ClickUp Whiteboard to explain complex topics. Use ClickUp Mind Maps to create logical paths and demonstrate workflows.

Consolidate resources

A project sponsor expects the knowledge they’ve shared with the project manager and the initial team to be carefully transferred to every team member/stakeholder. To ensure this:

  • Put up the project charter on ClickUp Docs
  • Set up project objectives as ClickUp goals and connect tasks so everyone can access it

Facilitate communication

No project sponsor wants information falling through the cracks. Use ClickUp project management to build transparency and clarity of communication.

  • Give the sponsor access to the ClickUp Workspace for complete visibility
  • Use the comments under each task to discuss issues contextually
  • Assign action items to the sponsor when you need clarification on anything
  • Use the ClickUp Chat view for real-time collaboration

Turn on notifications on the app or via email so the project sponsor never misses an update.

Strengthen project management documentation

Every project sponsor loves good documentation. Use ClickUp Docs to write well-formatted documentation for every feature. Connect them to the tasks, so you’ll never lose them in the haystack.

Automate reporting

ClickUp Dashboard Image
ClickUp Dashboard for reporting

Keep your project sponsor informed on your progress even before they ask. Use ClickUp Dashboards for real-time reporting with reports for:

  • Project progress against goals
  • Burn up and burn down charts
  • Time-tracked vs. estimates
  • Identifying bottlenecks in workflows
  • Workload and resource allocation

If your project sponsor requests specific reports, build custom charts for whatever you need right within your project management tool.

Depending on how hands-on the project sponsor is, they would need updates of varying details regularly. Customize the granularity and frequency of updates with ClickUp. Give their guest account access to adjust their updates by themselves. 

Collaborate Seamlessly With Your Project Sponsor with ClickUp

A project sponsor will walk the walk with you from the beginning to the end. Use ClickUp to start the project with confidence, execute it efficiently, and end it with pride.

Typically, project managers spend inordinate amounts of time making reports for project sponsors every month. Eliminate duplicate work. Effectively manage the projects and collaborate with the sponsor all in one place, on ClickUp!

Try ClickUp for free now.

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