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Senior Managers Need to Play Their Project Role(s) More Effectively

~ By Ron Rosenhead

Project manager shaking hands

Running training events is often a dumping ground for people's frustrations. I guess we have all done it thinking this guru will help us solve all our problems. However, some of our problems are deeply ingrained and take a lot of shifting.

One such problem is the role that senior managers play or should play in projects. The terminology does get in the way however, we believe that all projects need a sponsor, someone who gives executive support to the project manager and project. This is a person who among other things:

  1. Commissions (asks, tells, informs, discusses) others to undertake the project
  2. Briefs the project manager about the project, its history and any "political issues" surrounding it
  3. Agrees the level of accountability and responsibility the project manager will have
  4. Signs off the business case and other project management documents
  5. Actively reviews the project with the project manager at agreed dates

We have surveyed over a 1000 project managers and the report makes poor reading. When asked whether roles, responsibilities, and levels of authority are always clear in projects we received the following results:

  • Strongly agree: 2.8% - 32 people
  • Agree 34.3% - 394 people
  • Disagree 51.0% - 586 people
  • Strongly disagree 9.7% - 111 people
  • Don't know 2.3% - 23 people

People feed back to us that the role of the sponsor is often missing. In one organisation sponsors earned the unenviable title of sleeping sponsors. Sponsorship is an active process and one of the keys to project success. Without active participation by senior managers, projects are contributing to poor project performance, for example:

  • Giving a project an impossible delivery date without approving extra resources.
  • Not giving the project manager the authority to carry out the project, for example, having to go through various decision making processes to get approval for spending a small sum of money.
  • Not approving project changes in a timely way delaying progress.

Sponsors need to be trained and developed to ensure that the sponsor role is carried out effectively. They got to a senior management role through their expertise and training and when they take on board a senior role, sponsorship comes along with it. It is not a criticism of senior managers more a plea for them to take their sponsorship role seriously.

But senior managers beware! Project managers are starting to bite back! They are using risk management as a tool to explain that the project is in danger. They are quite clear they are not hiding behind delivery; but to deliver they need the active involvement of senior managers.

When a project starts to fall behind the project manager directs the sponsor to the risk log. They also identify the sponsor had received a copy of it before, but failed to act on their lack of involvement. Now it takes a brave project manager to do this, but it has had some positive impact with senior managers realising that if the project is to be delivered and if the overall strategy of the company is to be met they had better be more involved.

So senior managers, the gauntlet has been thrown down, reduce project risk and get more involved. Over to you!


Ron Rosenhead is a professional speaker, trainer, coach and author in the field of project management. Contact him at projectagency.co.uk/contactus.html Your free e-course is available at projectagency.co.uk


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