Who Is the Project Sponsor and Why Are They Critical to Success?

The project sponsor is one of the most important roles for aligning projects with overall business strategy and ensuring their success.

As a senior executive, the project sponsor acts as the project’s leader, advocating for resources and support from start to finish. They are ultimately responsible for the project’s delivery and outcomes.

Understanding who qualifies as a good project sponsor, their key duties across the project lifecycle, and how they enable success is critical knowledge for any project manager or team member.

The Role of the Project Sponsor

The project sponsor typically comes from senior management or the executive level. They “own” the project in question or are responsible for its existence and success.

The project sponsor fills many roles:

  • Strategic alignment - Ensures the project aligns with overall business goals, strategy, and objectives. They connect the dots.

  • Appointing the team - Selects the project manager and project team members. Matches people to the project appropriately.

  • Defining success - Outlines the criteria that defines success and gets stakeholder buy-in on those metrics.

  • Ensuring delivery - Is accountable for the project being completed successfully according to defined criteria.

  • Providing vision - Gives the project a clear vision to work towards and convey to stakeholders.

  • Leading governance - Institutes appropriate governance mechanisms to oversee and make decisions about the project.

  • Monitoring progress - Checks in on the progress of the project at defined intervals to ensure it stays on track.

  • Resolving issues - Steps in to resolve any higher-level issues and remove roadblocks.

  • Enabling communication - Connects team members with important stakeholders and acts as a liaison.

The project sponsor has their hand in the project from day one through completion and delivery, providing guidance and leadership along the way.

Qualifications and Skills of an Effective Project Sponsor

To successfully fill this multifaceted strategic role, the project sponsor needs a specific set of qualifications and skills.

Soft skills that enable strong leadership and communication are key:

  • Leadership abilities - Able to set clear vision, engage teams, boost morale, and lead change.

  • Communication skills - Listens well, provides clear direction, and tailors messaging appropriately.

  • Flexibility - Adapts their leadership approach as needed and handles uncertainty calmly.

  • Approachability - Creates an open environment where issues are raised early.

Hard skills in business strategy, planning, and management are also mandatory:

  • Strategic planning - Can set project objectives that align to business goals and strategy. Sees the big picture.

  • **Financial planning ** - Knows how to secure and provide appropriate budgets and resources.

  • Business management - Experience managing operations, people, and performance.

  • Mentorship - Coaches and guides the project manager to improve their leadership capabilities.

  • Negotiation - Able to negotiate with stakeholders and senior management to get buy-in.

  • Planning - Understands and participates in early project planning activities.

  • Risk management - Appraises threats and develops mitigation plans.

Additionally, some key abilities help a project sponsor oversee successful delivery:

  • Matching skilled project managers to each project appropriately.

  • Participating in the development of project charters.

  • Verifying project plans meet quality standards.

  • Establishing boundaries between sponsorship and micromanagement.

  • Adapting calmly to unforeseen project changes.

  • Evaluating the project upon completion for future learnings.

The right blend of leadership, strategy, and business expertise makes an effective project sponsor.

The Importance of the Project Sponsor Role

With a bird’s eye view of the project within the broader organization, the project sponsor serves some core functions:

Facilitating Communication

The project sponsor connects team members with important stakeholders, senior management, and subject matter experts. This opens lines of communication and ensures information flows to the right people.

Building Trust

By setting a unifying vision, providing support, and leading oversight, the sponsor brings credibility that builds trust between the team and stakeholders.

Preventing Escalations

With their knowledge, authority, and influence, the sponsor can resolve issues before they balloon into major escalations.

Ensuring Alignment

Keeping the project aimed at business objectives, focused on the right goals, and supported with proper resources.

Enabling Quality

Verifying project plans meet standards, auditing progress, and instituting governance gives confidence in the project’s quality.

Adapting to Change

When unforeseen changes threaten timelines or budget, the sponsor’s steady leadership keeps everything on track.

Matching Managers

Sponsors assign project managers based on capability, ensuring their strengths align with each project type.

Evaluating Outcomes

Looking at the project retroactively, the sponsor assesses what went well and what can improve in the future.

Without an engaged and empowered project sponsor, projects often fail to deliver on their objectives and create value. Their unique leadership across the project lifecycle is truly critical.

Key Project Sponsor Duties Across the Project Lifecycle

To provide effective support and governance, the project sponsor fulfills a variety of duties across every phase of the project:

Initiating Phase

  • Works with stakeholders to define the project vision, goals, and purpose.
  • Performs feasibility analysis to determine if the project makes strategic sense.
  • Develops and signs off on the project charter.
  • Formally authorizes the project to proceed.

Planning Phase

  • Reviews and approves all project plans including scope, schedule, budget, quality, staffing, communication, and risk plans.
  • Confirms sufficient resources will be available as needed.

Executing Phase

  • Checks in regularly on progress and holds status meetings.
  • Steps in to resolve conflicts, issues, and roadblocks.
  • Adjusts plans and resources as required.
  • Keeps stakeholders aligned through ongoing communication.

Monitoring & Controlling Phase

  • Audits project performance and quality standards.
  • Reviews status reports and metrics to identify needed changes.
  • Manages changes to scope, budget, or staffing through a change control process.
  • Ensures risks are monitored and mitigated.

Closing Phase

  • Formally accepts the project deliverables.
  • Conducts post-project evaluation to identify learnings.
  • Records feedback and best practices for future projects.
  • Rewards and recognizes the team.

Across All Phases

  • Acts as a spokesperson for the project to stakeholders and senior management.
  • Removes barriers to project success.
  • Coaches and mentors the project manager.
  • Celebrates wins and milestones.

The project sponsor has their hands full with responsibilities across initiation, planning, execution, monitoring, and closing. Their active role is integral to success.

Selecting the Right Project Sponsor

Choosing an effective project sponsor begins with understanding the project context:

  • What are the business objectives and how does the project align?

  • What resources are needed (budget, people, facilities, equipment)?

  • What risks and constraints exist?

  • Who are the key stakeholders?

  • What special expertise would be beneficial?

Then, identify candidates with:

  • Knowledge of the project domain area.

  • Influence over needed resources and stakeholders.

  • Availability to commit time to sponsorship duties.

  • Leadership experience and style suited to the project type and team.

  • Reputation as an enabler rather than a micromanager.

  • Willingness to see the project through to completion.

  • Strategic orientation and ability to see the big picture.

  • Skills in planning, risk management, and communication.

Project sponsorship duties require substantial time and strategic perspective. Select sponsors carefully based on project context and their proven leadership capabilities. Clarify upfront their availability and influence.

Sponsorship should sit with an executive experienced leading similar project types and teams. Avoid overcommitted or micromanaging sponsors. Get buy-in on their interest to fully support the project over the long haul.

With the right sponsor, project success becomes much more likely.


The project sponsor plays an irreplaceable strategic role in governance, leadership, and oversight from start to finish.

This senior executive aligns projects with business objectives, appoints skilled teams, sets success metrics, unblocks issues, and ensures quality - all critical functions.

Sponsor duties span project initiation, planning, execution, monitoring, and closing. Their consistent involvement and support enables projects to deliver on objectives with maximum value.

Strong leadership, communication, strategic perspective, and business expertise make a great project sponsor. Carefully select sponsors based on project context and confirm upfront their capability, influence, availability, and interest.

Empowered project sponsorship enables alignment, drives quality, and is a keystone to project success.