It is well know that executive sponsors can help a project to be successful, but not all projects with an executive sponsor succeed.
Why don’t they?
It is because there isn’t necessarily a training manual for how to be an executive sponsor or what pitfalls one must avoid.
So, how do you become a successful executive sponsor?
Build Trust & Communication
While the project manager is responsible for ensuring that the necessary work is being done so that a project will be successful, an executive sponsor’s role is to ensure the project is successful. While those may sound like the same thing, they are vastly different.
The project manager must focus on the day-to-day execution, while the executive sponsor should focus on the bigger picture, ensuring that the project stays aligned to the strategic goal and is being supported by other stakeholders and removing roadblocks.
In order to do this, the executive sponsor and project manager must have a candid relationship built on trust. Too often projects fail because people tend to hope for the best-case scenario and rely too much on best-case status updates. The communication between project manager and executive sponsor should be about openly discussing risks that the executive sponsor can help the team navigate.
Make Realistic Commitments
It goes without saying that commitment is a key component of being an executive sponsor, yet countless projects that have executive sponsors fail nevertheless. This isn’t to say that the failure is necessarily due to the executive sponsor, but as obvious as the importance of commitment is, there are many cases where the executive sponsor had an unrealistic expectation of their commitment. According to PMI’s annual Pulse of the Profession survey, one-third of projects fail because executive sponsors are unengaged.
Sometimes this has less to do with the individual and more to do with the organization. As more and more studies come out showing how executive sponsors increase the success of projects, companies want more executive sponsorship of projects. This has led to many executives being overextended across too many projects.
Before taking on a new project, sit down and determine the required time commitment and whether you have the bandwidth to meet that commitment. Your organization may be pressuring you to step up and take another project, but it won’t do them or you any good if the project fails.
Avoid Getting Overextended
We already discussed that the success of having an executive sponsor has led to many organizations overextending their executives. An in-depth study by the Project Management Institute found that executives sponsor three projects on average at any one time and they report spending an average of 13 hours per week per project, on top of their normal work.
Obviously, this isn’t sustainable and isn’t a recipe for success. The same study found several negative impacts from executive sponsors being overextended.
The solution here is simple; you have to learn how to say no. That is, of course, easier said than done when you’re being pressured to take on a new project, but again, it won’t do them or you any good if the project fails.
Develop Project Management Knowledge
According to a PMI study, 74% of projects are successful at companies where sponsors have expert or advanced project management knowledge. Unfortunately, only 62% of companies provide executive sponsor education and development. Not every executive has necessarily been a project manager or gone through project management training.
The results speak for themselves; having advanced project management knowledge makes it far more likely that you will be successful. If your organization doesn’t provide executive sponsor development, take it upon yourself to become a project management expert. It will help your team, company and self. The Boston Consulting Group has found that successful executive sponsors focus on improving their skills in change leadership, influencing stakeholders and issue resolution.
I hope this has inspired you to develop your executive sponsor skills. While it may be difficult to find the time, the payoff will be well worth it for you, your team and your company!
What are some other important keys to being a successful executive sponsor?