Sponsorship Unveiled: Who’s responsible for this Change?

Project Sponsor

The Project Sponsor

Most methodologies or Change frameworks stress the importance of a close relationship with the project sponsor, advocating visibility and involvement throughout the project lifecycle. But is this practical, necessary, or even useful?

As always, we were keen to discover how important sponsor engagement was to our experts when they created change management plans.

“I don’t think the sponsor even knows my name”, said one senior Change leader. “I got in the lift with her last week, and despite the fact I’d been on the project for six months, I had to introduce myself.”

We didn’t expect that! And it turns out this Change Manager was not alone.

The Absent Sponsor

In a very large organization with an established PMO, we learned project sponsors are responsible for an alarming number of initiatives. They served on multiple Steering committees where they had high-level details of projects, such as timelines, budgets, and risk, but had very little or no involvement in the day-to-day change activities. They might be shown a Change Management dashboard or perhaps an example of a training video or SharePoint site, but although they are cited on the Change Management Plan as the Sponsor, their engagement was minimal.

Surprised and intrigued, we asked our Change Leaders if this caused them problems.

What did we discover?

Traditionally, the Project Sponsor is a senior leader known to the recipients of the change. But it’s often not the case.

For example, let’s look at a cyber security upgrade. The sponsor would be a senior technology expert. If they presented to 1500 impacted staff in a contact centre those call operators would have would have no idea who this person was.

The skilled change professional understands that while a sponsor is responsible for high-level project decisions, there may be little benefit in asking them to roll up their sleeves and help. Change professionals often work with business leaders, who, with support from the change team, undertake some of the communications normally thought to be the sponsor’s responsibility. Sometimes, quite controversially, the Change team themselves become the face of the project, being brand ambassadors for the change.

Although initially surprised to hear this new reality, we learned it could be positive as we listened and understood more. Change leaders are responsible for selecting and often coaching the people in the organisation who are best placed to help them roll out the change. Change managers are not micro-managed by overbearing sponsors pushing unrealistic change methodologies.

Of course, we also heard about brilliant sponsors who were deeply involved and invested in the success of their projects and plenty of horror stories, but we’ll leave those for another article. If you struggle with getting leadership acknowledgement, then be sure to read how Change Managers can get a seat at the Board Table.

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