The unspoken role of sponsors, champions, shapers and influencers


Advances in Project Management

Balancing organisational concerns and personal values for effective project and programme initiation

By Prof Darren Dalcher

Director, National Centre for Project Management
University of Hertfordshire

Hertfordshire, UK

 Many of the surveys focused on the success criteria of projects, organisational change efforts, or process improvement initiatives home in on the need for senior executive support. The advice is often couched in terms of securing the support and backing of a senior figure within the organisation in order to guarantee successful delivery. Within the software process improvement community this is typically recognised as the dominant factor that is required in order to guarantee success.

Defining sponsorship

The 6th Edition of the Association for Project Management, APM Body of Knowledge positions sponsorship in the initial section of the book, under the heading of governance, and alongside key areas such as project management, infrastructure, life cycle, success factors and maturity. It begins by confirming that sponsorship is an important senior management role; asserting that “the sponsor is accountable for ensuring that the work is governed effectively and delivers the objectives that meet identified needs”.

Sponsors are required to play an active role in promoting, advocating and shaping projects. They may be known as project champions, Senior Responsible Owners (SRO), funders, or senior clients, and may even be part of the project steering group.

The APM Body of Knowledge points out that sponsors own the Business Case. Their role starts before the appointment of a project manager, and continues beyond project closure and the departure of the project manager. As owners of the business case, they are responsible for overseeing the realisation of benefits, thus spanning a longer project life cycle, extending beyond project delivery and handover.

In many situations the sponsor and project manager may belong to different organisations, with the sponsor representing the client organisation and the project manager hailing from the contracting organisation. Note: In larger and more complex project setups, this disparity in role and position often requires a senior contractor representative on the project board to work with the sponsor and address the different sets of business priorities and commercial objectives.

Given that the sponsor owns the business case, there is a need for a close relationship with the project manager to ensure that the business case remains viable and that the benefits are both relevant and realizable.

The APM body of knowledge therefore acknowledges (p. 36) that the sponsor needs to be:

  • A business leader and decision maker with the credibility to work across corporate and functional boundaries;
  • An enthusiastic advocate of the work and the change it brings about;
  • Prepared to commit time and support to the role;
  • Sufficiently experienced (in project and programme management) to judge if the work is being managed effectively and to challenge project managers where appropriate

Additional guidance on sponsorship

According to received wisdom sponsorship is concerned with influencing the performance of project management. The Association of Project Management’s publication, Directing Change (2005) notes that sponsorship is the effective link between the organisation’s senior executive body and the management of the project. The sponsoring role has decision making, directing and representational accountabilities, providing a route through which project mangers directly report to owning organisations and from which project managers obtain their formal authority, remit and approval of decisions that require agreement.

Englund and Bucero (2006) make the point that the success or failure of any project often hinges on how well the sponsor relates to the project, the project manager and other stakeholders. In reality, maintaining the relationships is difficult and multi-faceted, and sponsors often do not understand their role and impact. Englund and Bucero note that the sponsor fulfils the roles of: seller, coach and mentor, filter, business judge, motivator, negotiator, protector and upper management link during the different phases of the project.


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Editor’s note: The PMWJ Advances in Project Management series includes articles by authors of program and project management books previously published by Gower in the UK and now by Routledge. Each month an introduction to the current article is provided by series editor Prof Darren Dalcher, who is also the editor of the Gower/Routledge Advances in Project Management series of books on new and emerging concepts in PM. To learn more about the book series, go to https://www.routledge.com/Advances-in-Project-Management/book-series/APM. Prof Dalcher’s article is an introduction to the invited paper this month in the PMWJ.


 About the Author

Darren Dalcher, PhD

Series Editor
Director, National Centre for Project Management
University of Hertfordshire, UK



Darren Dalcher
, Ph.D., HonFAPM, FRSA, FBCS, CITP, FCMI is Professor of Project Management at the University of Hertfordshire, and founder and Director of the National Centre for Project Management (NCPM) in the UK. He has been named by the Association for Project Management (APM) as one of the top 10 “movers and shapers” in project management in 2008 and was voted Project Magazine’s “Academic of the Year” for his contribution in “integrating and weaving academic work with practice”.

Following industrial and consultancy experience in managing IT projects, Professor Dalcher gained his PhD in Software Engineering from King’s College, University of London. Professor Dalcher has written over 150 papers and book chapters on project management and software engineering. He is Editor-in-Chief of Software Process Improvement and Practice, an international journal focusing on capability, maturity, growth and improvement. He is the editor of the book series, Advances in Project Management, published by Gower Publishing of a new companion series Fundamentals of Project Management. Heavily involved in a variety of research projects and subjects, Professor Dalcher has built a reputation as leader and innovator in the areas of practice-based education and reflection in project management.

He works with many major industrial and commercial organisations and government bodies in the UK and beyond. He is an Honorary Fellow of the APM, a Chartered Fellow of the British Computer Society, a Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute, and the Royal Society of Arts, and a Member of the Project Management Institute (PMI), the Academy of Management, the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and the Association for Computing Machinery. He is a Chartered IT Practitioner. 

Darren is a Member of the PMI Advisory Board responsible for the prestigious David I. Cleland project management award and of the APM Professional Development Board. Prof Dalcher is an academic editorial advisor for the PM World Journal. He can be contacted at [email protected].

To see other works by Prof Darren Dalcher, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/darren-dalcher/.