Why Is My Sponsor Ignoring Me?

Friday afternoon 4 pm. The company’s new #Rockstar Sponsor is on the move – lots of noise, movement and whispered words before the Grand Announcement. ABC Project will kick off and…(drumroll)…YOU have been chosen to lead the team!

Oh Yeah! Bring. It. On. After all, you’re a newly minted PMP, you know PMBOK inside out and are bursting to show what you can do.

So where do you begin?

Ah yes, the Project Charter. The cornerstone deliverable of the PMBOK Initiation Phase and symbol of the Sponsor’s support and commitment. You dig around for a document template – scouring the internet because the company never completes them. Your weekend is spent faithfully documenting your project so you can pass it to the Sponsor for sign off.

And nothing happens.


One month later, the excitement has dimmed, frustration is building and momentum has stalled. The Sponsor is too busy to catch up, emails are brief and updates are scarce. Worst of all, you’ve heard that you might be moving on to another role across the floor.

Where did it go wrong?

At the beginning.
So let’s step back and think about that Project Charter a little more.

Documenting the Sponsor’s Commitment. It’s Not Enough

I recently followed an interesting discussion on LinkedIn, about the importance of locking down the Project Charter early.
Fabulous idea. I couldn’t agree more.

The conversation also covered some super important questions.
Should we use a template document?
Should we start the Project before it is signed off?
Should we stop a Project midstream until the document is complete?

All of these were valid topics for discussion, but in my mind, miss the central point.
Whilst at its heart, the Project Charter captures our Sponsor’s commitment, it does not create that commitment.

Simply put, the Sponsor does not become committed to the Project by reading and signing a printed document.

What Matters Most? Obtaining Real Commitment

No question about it – obtaining your Sponsor’s commitment is the most important step you can take at the outset of the project.

Successful delivery absolutely demands an engaged, committed Sponsor. A Sponsor who will champion the team, injecting real time, energy and influence to clear roadblocks and opening doors.
Deanne Earle uses a brilliant phrase to describe the importance of getting your senior executives aboard – “Executive and Senior Management cannot be missing in action…They also need to give a damn otherwise the project is a waste of time, money and effort”.

Wonderful words.

“Executive and Senior Management cannot be missing in action…They also need to give a damn otherwise the project is a waste of time, money, and effort” – Deanne Earle

But gaining that commitment takes a lot more than just presenting a document for sign off. Real engagement comes through the dialogue that leads to the document. Conversations. Questions. Sharing of ideas. Understanding drivers, priorities and motivations.

Before you present the Project Charter, you need to invest real time and effort with the Sponsor – dedicated, one-on-one time.

Understand the Business environment.

Appreciate the Sponsor’s critical drivers, objectives, responsibilities and success measures.

Identify the gap that needs filling.

Understand where the project will add real value.

Agree on how the project will align with the strategic plan.

This is what you should be focusing on at the outset, even before you start the Project Charter.

“For real business value projects must remain strategically aligned and business relevant…Project Managers need to focus on delivering business outcomes not just control via the process” – Deanne Earle

But, It’s Too Late

It is NEVER too late to build that key Sponsor relationship. But it does get harder to change that initial perception, the more time passes. First impressions count.

When the Project Manager comes on board, there is a brief honeymoon period to take the lead in shaping that critical Sponsor relationship. However, remember that this opportunity only comes along once. If that early engagement drifts, it becomes harder (although not impossible) to recapture the enthusiasm later.

For the incoming Project Manager, make Sponsor engagement the Top Priority.

Even if that window of opportunity is 2 hours on the first day, use it.

Talk with intent.
Share ideas.
Ask questions.
Generate some energy.
Steer the expectations.

Drive the engagement from the outset, then use the Project Charter to capture the essence of those efforts. Let the Sponsor see their own thoughts, buttons and drivers within the words.

Bringing it All Back Home

Think about your practice for a moment. How do YOU approach the Project Charter and the initial Sponsor engagement? Which do you place first? Does your company have a standard form document or practice?

How do you think this influences the way that your Sponsor engages?

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