In any organization that uses project management software cloud based or project management software on-site, projects within the system will compete for the attention of employees, project managers and the C-suite. One great tactic for getting a project noticed is to choose a dynamic sponsor. However, if project managers find themselves working with a not-so-great sponsor, they can try some different strategies to ensure that the project is still a success.

How to Choose and Empower the Right Sponsor for Your Project

What Not to Do: 5 Profiles of Not-So-Great Sponsors

By understanding the characteristics of not-so-great sponsors, you can avoid choosing a sponsor who could sink a crucial project.

  • The Figurehead. The Figurehead takes on the sponsorship role because of his or her position in the company. However, this type of sponsor has virtually no interest in the details of the project. A Figurehead sponsor may deliver lukewarm support, read documents and show up for meetings, but lack a dynamic vision for the end product. Thus, the project drifts without a compass because the sponsor is disengaged.
  • The Absent Landlord. The Absent Landlord is more remote than the Figurehead because he’s never even available to discuss the project. The Absent Landlord ignores project manager e-mails and phone calls and fails to read important documents in a timely manner. That is, until either the project experiences a major train wreck or the project manager has a nervous breakdown.
  • The Micromanager. When a sponsor is a Micromanager, the project manager has no autonomy. If every detail isn’t performed the way she wants it to be, then the project can’t move forward. Instead of meeting the objectives, employees focus on minor details that may have little to do with the purpose of the project. To the Micromanager, no work is good enough, and feedback about her management style is unwelcome.
  • The Social Butterfly. A Social Butterfly may do a great job of communicating positively and motivating people. However, when the project manager is trying to understand what she wants, the process seems as fruitless as nailing Jell-O to the ceiling. The Social Butterfly means well but provides no concrete assistance. As a result, the project manager has no one to whom he can escalate decisions and issues.
  • The Basket Case. The Basket Case breaks down the moment stress levels increase. This type of sponsor is a ball of emotions that may cry one moment and throw a stapler across the room the next. The Basket Case leaves the project manager and employees in a perpetual state of anxiety. A Basket Case sponsor may completely abdicate decision-making when overwhelmed by turbulent emotions.

The Sponsor/Project Manager Dynamic

A good sponsor will know how to adjust her leadership style according to the project manager’s comfort level with decision-making. In the best relationships, the sponsor gives directives, and the manager executes the directives. When a project manager needs a different style of leadership from the sponsor, whether she wants more freedom or more accountability, she should be able to sit down with the sponsor and have an honest dialogue. She should never go over the sponsor’s head to discuss project problems unless the sponsor is too hostile to handle productive communication.

Unfortunately, with many projects, neither project managers nor their teams have a say in who is assigned as a sponsor. In these cases, during their initial meeting, a project manager should ask the sponsor some clarifying questions. For example, what are the sponsor’s hopes and fears regarding the project? What obstacles does she foresee, and what does she believe the project will ultimately deliver to the business? If the sponsor fits one of the five not-so-great profiles, then the manager’s ability to cope will set the tone for the project.

Project management expert Peter Taylor says that the process of choosing a sponsor often matches an old saying: “You can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family.” No sponsor is perfect, but one that is engaged, clear on the objectives and full of emotional intelligence will help his or her project to get the attention of the C-suite. If a sponsor is not so great, however, then a good manager can still save the project.

About the Author: Sanjay Bharara conducts project management workshops for organization across the country. He also provides consulting services to improve organizational management and workflow. For more information on project management software solutions, visit this site.