Your project sponsor is the key link between the project management team and the organization's executive management. An effective sponsor "owns" the project and has the ultimate responsibility for seeing that the intended benefits are realized to create the value forecast in the business case.
A good project sponsor will not interfere in the day-to-day running of the project -- that's the role of the project manager. But, the sponsor should help the project manager facilitate the necessary organizational support needed to make strategic decisions and create a successful project.
With respect to the project, effective sponsors should:
- Create alignment. The sponsor helps keep the project aligned with business and cultural goals.
- Communicate on behalf of the project, particularly with other stakeholder groups in senior management. The sponsor also communicates his or her personal commitment to the project's success on multiple occasions.
- Gain commitment. The sponsor is a key advocate for the project. He or she "walks the talk" and gains commitment from other key stakeholders.
- Arrange resources. The sponsor ensures the project's benefits are fully realized by arranging the resources necessary to initiate and sustain the change within the organization.
- Facilitate problem solving. The sponsor ensures issues escalated from the project are solved effectively at the organizational level. This includes decisions on changes, risks, conflicting objectives and any other issue that is outside of the project manager's designated authority.
- Support the project manager. The sponsor offers mentoring, coaching and leadership when dealing with business and operational matters.
- Build durability. The sponsor ensures that the project's outputs will be sustained by ensuring that people and processes are in place to maintain it once the project completes its handover.
It's important to flag the lack of effective sponsorship as a key risk to the project. It may not make you popular, but you have an ethical responsibility to clearly define risks that need management attention.
Ultimately the organization's executive management is responsible for training and appointing effective sponsors. If this has not happened, as project managers, all we can do is help those sponsors who are willing to be helped and flag a risk or issue for those that are missing or unwilling to support "their project."
Read more about project sponsors.