Here at Sciforma, we’ve been supporting organizations throughout their PPM optimization journey for over three decades. In our experience, “lack of executive sponsorship” is arguably the most common pain point of otherwise highly efficient organizations.

In the realm of project portfolio management, having the unwavering support of high-level sponsors is a game-changer. But it is not that easy to secure — unless you adopt the right strategies.

The Impact of Executive Sponsorship on Project Success

Boosting project success

Research has shown that active executive sponsor engagement is a key driver of project success. For lack of more recent data, the PMI’s 2018 Pulse of the Profession Report found that: “Inadequate sponsor support is the primary cause of failed projects for an average 26% of organizations and for 41% of organizations with a low project management maturity.”

Why such an impact on project delivery? Simply because highly involved sponsors not only champion projects but also empower teams by providing vision, resources, and advocacy. Actively engaged executive sponsors significantly facilitate communication and collaboration across teams and departments, which helps break down silos and promote a holistic organizational perspective. This is instrumental in boosting project success rates.

Creating alignment

What’s more, sponsor engagement promotes strategic alignment by bridging the gap between strategy and execution. Who better than C-suite sponsors to ensure the critical connection between executive goals and project delivery?

The oversight of execs may also boost the quality of project work. They can use their influence to ensure effective resource allocation, risk mitigation, and project alignment with priorities.

Accordingly, cultivating a culture of executive sponsorship can accelerate project success, positively impact the strategic outcomes of programs and portfolios, and ultimately provide a competitive edge to your business.

Strategies to Foster a Culture of Executive Sponsorship

Fostering a culture of executive sponsorship means nurturing an environment that values active involvement and support from top leadership.

First of all, PMOs need to identify potential executive project sponsors. They can be found in various departments and functions, from finance to marketing. They may come from the very highest levels of the enterprise — it’s not uncommon to see such titles CEO, COO, and CIO in the roster of sponsors. Regardless of their area of expertise, they should possess the passion, influence, and alignment necessary to champion projects effectively.

The importance of communication

Nurturing commitment and ensuring buy-in from these prospective champions requires speaking their language. The discussions held within the boundaries of the PMO usually focus on project-related issues (schedules, costs, scope change, etc.). But such items won’t necessarily appeal to C-suite leaders. What really matters to them is the way projects align with organizational objectives and the impact on the business.

To demonstrate the value of executive sponsorship, show them how the projects will contribute to their own priorities:

  • Growth
  • Revenue
  • Competitiveness
  • Market position
  • Business resilience
  • and other such high-level areas

The success of executive sponsorship relies on the organization’s ability to ensure effective communication between sponsors and project teams. PMOs should see to it that information flows seamlessly, both from the top down and from the bottom up. Moreover, sponsorship should be visible enough to motivate and align teams toward shared goals. This will help cultivate a project environment that nurtures collaboration between business and project teams.

Empowering Executive Sponsors for Maximum Impact

Treating them well

Projects are increasingly important for businesses. The demand for executive sponsors is therefore increasing, while the supply remains limited. Sponsors often end up overextended, with adverse consequences on engagement and project success.

Because of the importance of sponsorship, addressing the inhibitors that limit sponsors’ ability to engage should be a priority.

Just like you would do with any other critical resource, you should come up with strategies to prevent sponsor overload. Use feedback and communication channels like “assignment” tracking tools to protect your precious sponsors from disengagement or burnout.

Ongoing training

Training is another key driver of sponsor empowerment. PMOs should provide tools, knowledge, and insights to help sponsors develop the right skills for their role. It can involve fostering a deeper understanding of project management and of their role throughout the project lifecycle. But the focus of sponsor training programs is usually on change leadership. Highly successful sponsors should know how to engage and drive key stakeholders, how to solve issues and remove roadblocks proactively, and how to maintain flawless strategy alignment.

Finally, sponsor engagement is a marathon and not a sprint. It is the responsibility of the PMO to ensure their ongoing commitment throughout the project — or even the portfolio — lifecycle.

To Wrap it Up

PPM is an enterprise-wide process involving multiple, diverse participants. Accordingly, a culture of executive sponsorship emerges as a driving force for success. It has the potential to empower teams, enhance strategic decision-making, navigate complexity, and accelerate projects success. However, PMOs should remember that nurturing organizational culture is an ongoing endeavor that requires adapting to evolving business needs and leadership dynamics.

For more information about how PMOs can build stronger project portfolios and improve project success, discover our eBook, 3 Core PMO Priorities for Stronger Project Portfolios.

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