Who is responsible for what and when in projects?

I was working with a group of project sponsors and this question came up early in the workshop.

Let me set the scene for you. I had discussed the reason why project sponsorship was so important (the stats suggest any company that does not have active project sponsors is losing millions!), I had identified a range of activities a sponsor needed to carry out and people had self- scored themselves against the 15 identified areas and then came the question. I then asked the group a question.

“Has anyone taken on a job where on day 1 you are not too clear what you should be doing?”  Around 75% of the group said yes! I then asked a supplementary question; “What was it like?” Words such as frustrated, awful, energy sapping were mentioned alongside ‘a good challenge’. The overriding comments were negative (this has been the pattern on other sponsor workshops) with the odd positive comment. I then suggested that if it was a negative experience for project sponsors, imagine what it is like for project managers!

So what is the answer – who is responsible for what and when?

I put forward the idea of using the role of the sponsor and others such as the project manager and linking this to the internal project management approach. I drew a chart which explains this – tidied up below.


It’s a simple process – use what you already have and openly discuss project roles. Document and review them.

I explained that it is simply using what is (hopefully) in existence:

  • the project management approach for the company (hopefully you have one
  • the agreed roles within project management (in your project management approach)

The matrix works and works even better with dialogue!

What is needed is the dialogue/debate mentioned in blue in the diagram. I gave them an example where the Head of HR was involved in a major transformational project. The first thing the team did was to work out project roles and who filled them. She and others in the team found it really valuable and she mentioned that while this was 9 months ago, people had been pretty good with sticking to their role. She mentioned she had been involved in many projects before this and she wished they had done it for all of the others!

The group agreed (and other groups since then have also agreed) that this process is often missing.

So why not have a go at completing the diagram (use your own approach in the vertical column) however……remember, dialogue is needed.

Without dialogue think about the negative responses earlier in this piece!


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4 Responses to Who is responsible for what and when in projects?

  1. Paul Streeter says:

    Hi Ron, that is a good table and it’s amazing how better everyone feels when they have clarity on this. One thing I would add is that sometimes it is the Project Owner doing a lot of that work at the start instead of the Project Sponsor or Project Manager. Best regards, Paul

    • Ron Rosenhead says:

      Paul, thanks for your comments.

      You are correct when you say clarity makes people feel better. I have been told this by people engaged in projects from sponsor to team member – many times. I do not mind if it is the project owner, the project manager, the sponsor but someone needs to do the work at the start. As long as it is agreed, I am OK with this. It’s when little or nothing is done that worries me.

      Thanks again Paul.

      Regards Ron

  2. Alexandra says:

    Thank you, Ron, for this great post! It was a pleasure sharing it with our own audience.

    Keep it up!

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