Most advice for improving project management skills targets such factors as developing written plans, holding productive meetings and delegating workloads. While all are important criteria to ensure project success, the most critical impact over the long run still comes down to strength of project sponsorship.
As project manager, it is your job to make a project runs smoothly, which often has you communicating changes in expectations or deliverables. The project sponsor, however, takes on the role of project champion, ultimately driving overall success.
The role of project sponsorship involves outlining realistic goals and deliverables, and providing support in obtaining the necessary resources to complete a project. However, some project managers may encounter project sponsors who make unrealistic demands, provide poor direction or offer no help in securing critical resources.
Obtain support from your project’s sponsor
Ongoing support from those involved in project sponsorship is vital because the business world is dynamic, and priorities can shift. If the members of a project team are being pulled in different directions and told to focus on issues deemed more pressing, the project can lose momentum.
Deadlines may be missed even when most of the team is actively working on the project if they’re left waiting for critical information they need to go forward. When this occurs, someone needs to make the case to executive management to prioritize the project or allocate more resources. Typically, doing so falls under the role of project sponsorship. When there is a lack of active support, you can end up in a tough position as project manager.
Dealing with difficult or unreliable sponsors is challenging, but as project manager, you need to know how to handle them. This is where well-developed people skills come in once again. When you find that the individual serving in a project sponsorship role is not proactively communicating the benefits and needs of the project to senior leadership, you must step in to request and secure the necessary support.
The best way to do so is by providing the person responsible for project sponsorship with the information and data he or she needs to make a compelling case for the project. If you supply effective talking points that underscore the value of the project, it makes it easy for the project sponsor to convey these concerns and requests to executive management and maintain support from the top down.
Cope with vague or unrealistic goals
While lack of support is one hurdle to overcome, vagueness in conveying a project’s goals or creating unrealistic expectations can be another. In such situations, communication and patience are essential.
Begin my formulating the best questions to ask in seeking clarification. Continue to work closely with your project sponsor and create a clear outline of expected outcomes as well as tasks to achieve them.
If you believe your project sponsor is moving forward with unrealistic expectations, it’s time to explain limitations, including the additional time and resources necessary to meet demands. Stay positive and don’t be pulled by the under current. When you can make your case effectively and respectively, most project sponsors will back off their unrealistic goals and replace them with something more suitable.
Develop critical skills to work with your project sponsor
If necessary, consider additional project management training or educational opportunities to help you better deal with difficult project sponsors. There is a range of options out there, from continuing your formal education in a traditional setting or online, to finding a mentor to self-study and training.
Once you find the right fit, you will see that additional education and training can equip you with powerful project management tools and credentials, paving the way for your success.