In many organizations, a project sponsor is often seen as the person whom should only provide money for the project and for the rest he’s expected not to interfere too much with the project. After all it’s the task of the project manager to lead the project in the right direction and to deliver the results with the available budget and within the stipulated time. In case he doesn’t succeeds in this endeavour, he gets the blame, most likely gets replaced or the project gets stopped. Whatever it is, it’s not a good thing, not for the career of the project manager, nor for the organization who gave the assignment and who ultimately did not receive the requested results.
However, it’s not the question of who’s to blame for the failure, but it should be about the responsibilities of both the project sponsor as the project manager and this according to the best practices in the world of projects. And if all organisation would apply these, fewer projects would fail in their intent.
So, which are then the responsibilities we’re talking about? For this we need to assume that an organization invests into something in order to achieve a specific result. An investment, thus money, is not something that can be flung overboard. No, the organisation wants something back in return. This can only be secured by a close follow up of the investment and, if needed, by adjusting the assignment. There is no doubt: this is not the project managers responsibility, he’s only responsible for the day to day management of the project. The responsibility should be with someone who has the necessary authority within the investing organization, and therefore should be assigned as project sponsor.
But there is even more: At the end, the project sponsor is also responsible for the success of the project, while the project manager in turn is responsible to deliver the required results. The project sponsor is even so responsible for the accuracy of the business case, which he needs to be able to take the right decisions. However, it’s the project managers task to keep the business case continuously up-to-date. In addition, the project sponsor must also make things happen, break down barriers, resolve conflicts, etc. Here we think of freeing people to create products for the project, or conduct conversations with unions on a restructuring project. Things for which a project manager does not have the necessary authorities.
In this it’s thus very important that both the project sponsor and the project manager take their responsibilities within the project and that they setup a good cooperation between them. A more actively involved project sponsor will, because of his commitment, increase the chance of a successful outcome of the project.