The Three Things Every Project Manager Must Know about Project Governance

This Blog is brought to you courtesy of Dr Mike Clayton. It covers the very important topic of project governance


Projects are all about getting stuff done, I was once told. And this wonderfully simple view is very appealing, isn’t it? So the last thing we need, is someone getting in the way.

Project Governance is often seen as getting in the way

Too many project managers see the role of Project Sponsor, or their Project Board as somehow getting in the way of progress. After all, they meddle, ask difficult questions, and sometimes even hold up work.

Good Governance Adds Value

But good governance is not about meddling. And if you see it that way, you risk setting yourself, and your project, above the organization that is paying for it. Project governance is an essential discipline. Done well, it adds huge value to the project management process and benefits your organisation.

So, if you had to know just three things about project governance, what would they be?

  1. Good Governance Sets Direction

Good governance sets direction… This is almost a statement of the obvious, because the word governance literally means steering. That’s why some projects have a Board and some have a Steering Group.

What is crucial for any organization is that its projects align with the strategic intent. Projects are, after all, the means by which you create the assets and resources to do something different.

Too many projects fail because they are not properly reconciled with what their business needs. It may be an exaggeration today that they are started upon the whim of one senior manager. But plenty do start without being subject to full scrutiny, at a strategic level, against other competing projects, and in the context of a clear organizational strategy.

This is a governance role. And if you think about it, success of the wrong project could be equally problematic for an organisation, as failure of the right one.

Dr Mike Clayton

Dr Mike Clayton


  1. Good Governance Makes Decisions

As project managers, we have a lot of authority. It doesn’t feel like it when we are trying to get Chris from accounts to deliver Work Package 27 by the end of the month, and Chris is saying there is a year-end to close. But we do.

We get to make a lot of decisions every day. A large portion of success or failure rests on our shoulders.

How do we make those decisions? And how do we record them and demonstrate that they were sound? That is governance. And the role of the Governance tier of your project; your sponsor, boss or client, and the Project Board or Steering Group, gets to make those decisions that are outside of your authority.

Making sure that all decision-making is transparent, accountable, and rigorous is the second role of project governance.

  1. Good Governance Oversees Project

You know what you are doing, right? You have everything under control. The last thing you need is some big boss poking their nose into your project.

But what about your colleagues down the hall, running the other big project? You’re dependent upon some aspects of that project. So how do you know it is running properly?

That’s the other role of Project Governance: overseeing the proper operation of the project, for the good of the organization that is stumping up the cash, and hazarding its reputation. Oversight is ensuring that the project follows the rules and delivers to its own (approved) plan.

‘Ah, but I’m a bit of a maverick,’ you say. Well, one person’s innovative maverick is another person’s loose canon. Good governance is not about blinkered box-ticking. It can distinguish clever innovation from reckless shortcuts. And if your colleague down the corridor is doing the latter, don’t you want a régime of proper oversight?

What Can You, the Project Manager, Do?

There is plenty you can do to influence good governance on your project. But, as always, it starts with good conversations. Get a meeting with your sponsor, to discuss the appropriate style of governance that will balance the needs of rigour with the desire for flexibility. Ask what will fit with the culture of your organization, and the objectives of your project.

Between you, set up five crucial things:

  1. Governance group
  2. Outline or detailed terms of reference
  3. Review cycle
  4. Decision-making process
  5. Approach to record keeping and documenting decisions

And above all, build time into your project schedule, for good project governance.

Over to You

What are your tips for establishing good project governance? What as worked, and what has gone wrong?


Dr Mike Clayton is a Project Manager. He has also trained over 6,500 project managers, coached, spoken and written extensively. He has five books on Project Management with Pearson, Wiley and Macmillan, but his latest project is far bigger. Mike is the founder of, which provides video-based online training for new and mid-level project managers.


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3 Responses to The Three Things Every Project Manager Must Know about Project Governance

  1. Malcolm West says:

    Mike and Ron,

    a great piece that really brings out the importance of Governance to you, your project and the organisation. Your readers may find our Free PM software tools helpful in putting this into practice as the free Planner and Community Edition between them address all the five points in your checklist.

    Happy to put together a direct video response/demo if that would be helpful. Here is the standard into video on YouTube:

    Or just sign up to download the tools free for life here:


  2. Ryan Shields says:

    Great post Ron!!

    Really helpful pointers and tips on project governance, I was really looking for this type of content that can help me in my work and get my projects underway in a smooth manner. From last few weeks, I was stuck with the advancement of 2 projects and was facing issues in execution of the projects for my oversees clients, but now I think I can complete it in a better way and follow up accordingly.


  3. Max says:

    Nice post! Thanks for share this information.

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