How to effectively interact with different types of project sponsors


Projects differ from one another in a great number of ways but, the one thing they all have in common is a sponsor. In the course of one’s life, working as a Project Manager (PM), you will come across a number of individuals assigned the role of sponsor but you will soon realize that each of these are not all sponsors are equal in their commitment or support of the project they are made to champion bringing about challenges for a PM.

Sponsor TypesIn working on projects with individuals assigned the key role of sponsor, it is important to truly understand each of these individuals as you will have to work with them closely to deliver on the objectives of the project; sometimes against the odds, the politics of the organization and when it might seem like everything is pushing you backwards. It would be nice to be able to quickly size up a sponsor to determine if he/she will have to be resistant or if they will be in your corner to support you. After dealing with a few challenging projects several years ago, I came up with my own simple categorization technique for sponsors. I noticed that you can distribute them among three distinct types. I have labeled each of these as the “Left,” the “Middle” and the “Right.” Let’s discuss each of these types to see if you agree with my observations.

Type 1: “Left” sponsors

First, one of the most difficult of the three to deal with is the “Left.” A “Left” sponsor will be overly involved in the project; so much so that they will often go over your head as a PM to get things done. I have had several sponsors of this type throughout the years. You can recognize them by certain traits but mostly “Left” sponsors tend to want to take charge and will often voice their displeasure with having to go through a PM to get things done.

To give you the perfect example, let me introduce you to sponsor X. Sponsor X is quite knowledgeable on every aspect of the project, having been a PM themselves for a number of projects before being promoted to their current role. Sponsor X likes to take charge of the project starting with meetings and has been known to want to approve all agendas and send them to the team and stakeholders.

For a PM, sponsor X is both a challenge and a blessing but not conducive to work. Sponsor X is highly-motivated but will totally roll over the PM, making the role irrelevant. People will not seek the PM’s opinion but rather go directly to the sponsor for a decision. Being so involved takes any authority away from the PM.

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