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5 Ways to Help Your Project Management Team Succeed as an Executive Sponsor

career pmo project management May 01, 2023
5 Ways to Help Your Project Management Team Succeed as an Executive Sponsor

You’re sitting in your favorite pizzeria, and take a bite into your first slice. You’ve been waiting for this meal all week and are eager to dig in. However, your first bite is surprisingly lukewarm. Did they leave it at the window for 15 minutes before bringing it to you? You reach for your drink to wash the unpleasantness down and notice that the glass is empty. Are they short-staffed or something? You change gears and go for the salad, only to have one of those cherry tomatoes explode in your mouth with over-ripe nastiness! What is going on here?? 

That’s when the server comes up to the table and asks, “How does your pizza taste? Everything okay?” You mutter, “Yeah, good. Everything’s fine.” Unaware of any hiccups, the server plays their role and says, “Great. Let me know if you need anything,” and scurries off to the next table. 

At this point, this bad meal is on you! Someone asked you how your pizza tasted, was looking for feedback, and could have done something about it to make things better. But, in your role as customer, you chose to remain silent and now they have no clue that there’s a problem. A good customer says what they really think, so that the business can do something about it. 

As an executive sponsor, you also have a role to play. A large part of this role is to give an honest answer to, How Does Your Project “Taste”. Let’s dig further into why this is so important and what else you can do to make sure you are filling your role as an executive sponsor. 

You Signed Up for a Big Job as an Executive Sponsor 

 We asked our resident project management expert, Professor Al, for his definition of an executive sponsor. This is what he said: 

“An executive sponsor is a senior-level leader within an organization who provides active support, guidance, and advocacy for a specific project or initiative. They typically have the authority and resources to ensure the success of the project and are responsible for aligning the project's goals with the organization's strategic objectives. The executive sponsor provides overall direction, leadership, and oversight to the project team and stakeholders, and is responsible for ensuring that the project is delivered on time, within budget, and to the satisfaction of all stakeholders involved.” 

Those are big shoes to fill! And, the role is filled with many nuances, i.e., projects moving beyond just being delivered on time, on budget, and within scope. It’s more important now than ever before to make sure that each project is delivering value to the organization. 

What are some ways you can help your Project Managers and PMO Leaders help you fill those shoes? 

5 Ways to Help Your Project Management Team to Succeed 

Implementing the following five suggestions into the way you operate as an executive sponsor will certainly help you fulfill your role. 

Provide Your Project Management Team with Feedback 

We’re going under the assumption that you have a top-rate project management team in place (if not, be sure to get in touch with us 🙂). One trait of a top-rate project management team is to circle back with you as the executive sponsor and ask how things are going. In effect, they’ll ask you how your project tastes. If you’ve had a terrible experience, or would have liked that something had gone better, tell them! If the project was late, over-budget, or worse yet, is still sitting on the shelf and not delivering value, it’s on you (just like that bad meal) if you don’t say anything when you are asked what you think. Heck, it’s even on you if you are not asked. It’s your responsibility as an executive sponsor to make sure your team knows what you expect. 

Don’t Blow Up When Bad News is Delivered (with one exception) 

A rule of Parenting 101 is not to overreact when your child comes to you with bad news. “Mom, you know your car, right? And, you know the garage, right? Well, they may have come a little too close to each other today when I backed out.” “WHAT WERE YOU THINKING? ARE YOU CLUELESS? YOU’LL NEVER DRIVE AGAIN!” is not an appropriate response when you haven’t even had a chance to look at the damage. Be glad your child came to you with the news, realize they didn’t do it on purpose, and come up with a plan to fix any property damage. That will keep the lines of communication open. 

Now, we are not comparing your project management team to children, nor you to their parents. But the same principle applies. A top-rate project management team is going to come to you with bad news early, as in, when it happens. They are trained to do that.  “WHAT WERE YOU THINKING? ARE YOU CLUELESS? YOU’LL NEVER WORK HERE AGAIN!” is not the proper response from an executive sponsor. Listen to them, understand how things got to that point, and then help get things back on track. 

What’s the exception? If they didn’t come to you with bad news early. Now you have a coaching opportunity on your hands, where you can help them understand that bad news is much easier to deal with in its infancy, rather than when it becomes a full-blown adult. 

Hold Others Accountable 

Your project managers and PMO Leaders are at a certain level in the organization, usually somewhere in the middle. They most likely do not have direct reports, and many times they need to tap into resources that are above them in title, seniority, and experience. Well-trained project leaders will use influence and every trick of the trade to make sure a project stays on track, but sometimes those higher up in the organization may lag behind, despite a project manager’s best efforts. 

You, on the other hand, have a different relationship with these resources. You may be at their level or even above. Use your influence and legitimate role power to give your project leader a helping hand.   

Provide Resources and Support 

Providing resources and support can come in many shapes and forms. The one that most are familiar with (and arguably the easiest) is to hire more people to get this done faster. But, spending more money should always be the last resort after other options are exhausted. What else can you do as an executive sponsor to provide resources and support? 

First, convey the message to the entire organization how important this project is to complete. How? Use every opportunity to say, “This project is the most important project to the organization. If anyone from this team comes to you and requests help, put this request at the top of your list and move everything else down. There is nothing more important than this project. If there are any questions or confusion, please come see me.” This approach works very well! 

Second, you also know as an executive sponsor where other resources–i.e., from other non-priority projects–can be pulled from short-term. Go ahead and make those shifts, putting your money where your mouth is. 

Publicly Celebrate Successes 

A fifth way to set your project team up for success in the future is to recognize a job well done. After the project is complete and delivering value, make sure to include these results in company meetings, newsletters, social media, and other channels that will recognize the team. A public pat on the back goes a long way in mitigating the long hours that everyone put in to make the project successful. Plus, it prepares them to walk around the office ready to respond to any random high-five that may come their way! 

Sure, there’s plenty more you can do to fill your role as an executive sponsor, but this is a great place to start. Implement these five suggestions immediately and the next time your project management team asks how the project tastes, you’ll be able to honestly say, “GREAT!” 


How to Be a Great Executive Sponsor 

Yes, being an executive sponsor is a real thing with real responsibilities. Start with these steps below to show your team that you take this role seriously.

Understand Your Role - To be a great executive sponsor is to understand what the role entails. Start with the suggestions above, read books, listen to podcasts, and talk with others about all the different ways you can be a great executive sponsor.

Support Your Team - Once you understand your role, start with the basics of providing feedback (solicited or unsolicited), not overreacting to bad news, holding others accountable, providing resources and support, and celebrating successes. Just these five actions will make a big difference on your next project.

Ask Your Team What They Need - There’s nothing wrong with telling your team that you’re trying to be a better executive stakeholder and you’d love to hear what they think you could do to help. Candor and openness go a long way in solidifying your relationship with your team in the future.

Following these steps will help you to step into the big shoes that you are expected to fill when you take on the role of an executive sponsor!


Executive Sponsor - A senior-level leader within an organization who provides active support, guidance, and advocacy for a specific project or initiative. The executive sponsor provides overall direction, leadership, and oversight to the project team and stakeholders. 

Legitimate Role Power - The belief that a person has the formal right to make demands and to expect others to be compliant and obedient. Legitimate power appears in hierarchies such as the government or workplace. People are influenced by this type of power based upon social norms and rules of the workplace.  

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