Should a sponsor be able to delegate?

This was a question that set me thinking. However, let me give you some background. I was with a client and I met two senior managers who set the context for some upcoming sponsor workshops.

I then met around 40 people – some team members, a mix of project managers and project sponsors to identify:

  • perceptions project managers and staff have of project sponsors
  • what project sponsorship is like at the moment – current practice(s)
  • what people would like to see in a project sponsor workshop

The meetings threw up many issues and challenges alongside different ideas; feedback kept rolling well into the afternoon.

Several themes stood out however one more than others; the above question. It was explained to me several times that a sponsor was appointed however this person was a figurehead. They were only appointed to give the project some clout, some credibility. But, they delegate responsibility for sponsorship to others having the name in title only.

Can the project sponsor delegate?

Should the project sponsor be able to delegate?

So back to the question; should a sponsor be able to delegate? Of course, this depends on what you think a sponsor should do.

When I co-wrote the book Strategies for Project Sponsorship (with Vicki James and Peter Taylor – Management Concepts 2013) we found little identified what a project sponsor should do. We therefore set about developing a list, testing it, finally coming up with a list of activities (go here and look below the order button to get your free copy.) The interesting issue when looking at the list is that by delegating sponsors are passing accountability to others e.g making go/no go decisions; or identifies project board members; or evaluates the project success on completion.

I have always believed that there needs to be some interaction between the project sponsor and project manager. However, in the situation where there is a figurehead, who does the project manager interact with? It is a serious question and one that is not easy to answer. If is not easy to answer then look again at the situation which to me seems wrong. It is a false situation where the level of engagement has been diluted by poor role clarification.

Can a sponsor do this? I say not! If they do, are they really the sponsor of the project?

Of course that is my view. What do you think?

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4 Responses to Should a sponsor be able to delegate?

  1. Ken Burrell says:

    I think that in an ideal world, each project would be sponsored by someone with a level of interest and authority that is appropriate to the project. However, sometimes people are picked to sponsor projects for political reasons, and not through their own choice. Sometimes they are distracted by events going on in their “day jobs”, and sometimes they are just too senior to be available enough to do an effective job of sponsoring the project, including the items you list in the document you link to from your article.
    This is a situation that I have seen before, and that drove me to write my post “When the Sponsor is just too important to be effective” ( In that post I propose that (especially for projects that are probably being sponsored by someone too senior and the PM is unable to change that) delegation of some of the sponsor’s responsibilities to someone more available can help to keep the project moving forward whilst retaining access to the sponsor’s “clout” should this be required.
    It’s not an ideal solution but it can be a workable one in certain circumstances.
    If you do take a look I’d be interested to hear what you think.

    • Ron Rosenhead says:

      Thanks Ken for your comments.

      I understand what you say the inevitable but/however is now upon us….I like a comment made by some who said:

      “… soon as the sponsor has lost (‘delegated’) the ‘I want’ he is not a real sponsor any more (regardless of title).”

      I feel this to be true and by actually delegating, they are losing the I want. By delegating, I believe there is abdication of accountability and responsibility – however you want to define them. I also think that to delegate reduces the importance of the project – almost relegating it to another level. Maybe it is time to look at what the “day job” is and whether these tasks could be delegated!

      You actually said it yourself Ken; its not ideal…If it is not ideal then why carry out that practice? To do so is to demean the sponsor role and put onto the project a governance structure that is to say the least ‘interesting’

      Thanks again Ken.

  2. Tom Hussey says:

    Interesting question Ron. My short answer would be, ‘yes, but not all of the time.’ I’ve had many a frustrating experience on projects where the executive sponsor regularly bailed on important project meetings because something else had come up. Then the 2ic comes along and we get decisions that are not really decisions because they will have to be re-litigated at some future point. So, you can’t be a project sponsor if you can’t find time to come to the project steering committee meetings!

    • Ron Rosenhead says:

      Thank you Tom for your valuable comments.

      I think the frustrating experience that you describe can be echoed by (too) many project managers. The problems are many:

      who is accountable for the project? The lines of governance are somewhat vague here…
      can the 2nd in command make decisions and if yes, will they be accepted by the ‘real’ sponsor?
      who does the project manager go to with a real problem – here we have a governance and structure/seniority problem
      it is not just the steering committee meetings – one person said; it’s delegation on the run. “Oh, I’m supposed to see the project manager in 10 minutes however I need to see Director of Procurement about a new policy initiative. Please make the time to see the PM.”

      My feeling is that you appoint a sponsor and this is the person who sponsors that project. I recognise this is too black and white however any other way and there are so many shades of grey. This concerns me and many I meet.
      I am reminded of a comment on another thread where someone suggested:

      …as soon as the sponsor has lost (‘delegated’) the ‘I want’ he is not a real sponsor anymore (regardless of title).

      By sending the second in command are they doing that?

      Thanks again Tom

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