Five top tips for Project Sponsors

At Hart Square, we work with many different Project Sponsors, each with their own character, vision and leadership style that draws on their organisation’s values and structure.

The Sponsor plays a key role in the project’s lifecycle – they are the ultimate decision-maker, the project champion, and, as they may remind you, the one whose head rests on the block if the project fails.

With great power, comes great responsibility, but one would also argue that great learning comes too. What qualities do successful Project Sponsors share?
No matter the size of your project or organisation, here are some top tips for successful project sponsorship.

  1. Keeping the big picture
    As Project Sponsor you need to be able to cut through project ‘noise’ to make pragmatic decisions for the whole project.
    Avoid being pulled in the weeds of day to day project delivery – that’s why you have your Project Team. You need to retain your perspective so you can track overall progress, gauge when the project is excelling or stalling, and be ready to inject focus and momentum as the project demands.
  2. Trust your Project Team
    Empowering staff within a clear and agreed remit is essential to a proactive, engaged Project Team. Actively listen to their recommendations and create an environment which welcomes constructive challenges and recognises individual strengths and expertise.
    Consider how your Project Team refer to themselves within the project, are we in it together or is there a disconnect?
  3. Making clear what success means to you
    Is it hitting a certain deadline? Or is it not spending one penny over budget?
    Of course, we want projects to satisfy all elements of the cost, time, and quality trinity, but knowing your success statement and being upfront from the start sets expectations and focuses efforts. This is your cornerstone to refer to in the face of competing demands and decisions.
  4. A role model for failure
    The Project Sponsor has an essential role in communicating what failure is (or isn’t) and how we respond when things go wrong.
    Create a safe space for new ideas and approaches by speaking positively about trying, testing and learning – just because something has changed doesn’t mean the old way was broken. When things don’t go well, set the precedent and show how projects can learn from experience without aggressive finger pointing.
  5. Championing hearts and minds
    As well as inspiring the Project Team with your big picture, the Sponsor has a vital role in establishing the project’s profile and its alignment within the wider organisation.

Shorter, frequent updates on progress will reassure stakeholders and keep your vision at the fore. What are the 3 things you want staff to associate with the project when it comes up at the next budget meeting?

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Time for a new kind of leadership

If ever there was a time to move forward from command-and-control style management to a world where leaders inspire their people and, in business terms, their teams then surely this is it.

A cultural shift from management to leadership has been coming for some time, but let’s not just assume the reasons and benefits are clear to all. This is about far more than the semantics around different words, this is a reflection on modern ways of working, the desire for collaboration across organisations, where employee participation is fostered, engagement is nurtured and trust underpins employment.

From all directions, when you consider whether it is more productive, more efficient, more effective to put our heads together as equals, or to compete within flse hierarchies, surely there is only one conclusion to draw?

Who wants to work in an organisation where you can only do what you’re told to, in detail? Where is there any form of satisfaction to be had in just executing someone else’s ideas?

On that note, ask also how many new ideas can a stretched executive spin up, while trying to maintain operational delivery within good governance.

How many barriers to open thought do long-standing, senior employees have which more recent recruits are free of when they seek to innovate, when they dare to pursue the art of the possible unfettered by experience and failure.

To be dynamic, to grow, to be digital we need input from all corners of our organisations.

If ever there was a time to appreciate the value and perspective of every employee then it is now, and we need to keep this front of mind as and when we find a way through the disruption of the pandemic.

Let’s not talk of a return to normal, but of progressing to a new current state, informed by this experience, and celebrated by every one of us for we have all contributed to its achievement.


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