PROJECT & CHANGE SPONSOR PLANS 
Everything You Need to Know
By Ogbe Airiodion | Senior Change Management Leader


Executive Sponsorship of a Change: Step-by-Step Sponsor Guide, Roles & Responsibilities, and a Free Sponsor Engagement Plan.

 Over the last two decades I have delivered large-scale change management and project management for a wide range of organizations including Apple, Intel, Goldman Sachs, Cisco, Deloitte, Accenture, and more.

Developing and implementing a well-structured project sponsorship plan increases your ability to engage with sponsors, and to coach them on their roles as sponsors. Most sponsors I have worked with often presume that their main role is just to approve the budget for a project and to oversee that project.

I often need to spend time educating these executive sponsors that we need them to do more than just signing the check on a project. We need them to be visible advocates of the change. We need them to engage with other leaders to ensure leadership buy-in. And, most importantly, we need them to provide active and visible participation throughout the duration of the project.

When engaging with sponsors, I often leverage the sponsorship guide outlined on this page, as well as the free downloadable sponsorship plan and template that you can obtain below and use for your project sponsorship engagement planning.

As Pioneers of best change management practices, we believe in supporting the change management and project management communities with our toolkits, templates, and samples, including the free executive sponsorship management plan, roadmap, and sponsorship checklist offered below.

Let me know if you have any questions: Send message.

Ogbe Airiodion
Sr. Change Management Lead (Consultant)


Executive Sponsorship Guide2
Free Template for Assessing and Managing Change & Project Sponsors

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Types of Executive Sponsors – What You Need to Know

 Change practitioners and project leads often assume that there is only one type of executive sponsor. Which is not the case. There is more than one type of executive sponsor. Let us start with the overall executive sponsor description.

Executive sponsors are senior leaders of an organization that are needed to sponsor and advocate for a change to increase the successful implementation of that change. Executive sponsors can be separated into three categories:

  • Primary
  • Secondary
  • Critical

Now, we’ll go through the descriptions of each of those three types.

Project Sponsor Plan

Primary sponsors, often referred to as project sponsors, are senior organizational managers that are tasked with approving budgets for a project and are responsible for the overall success of project implementation.

Being a primary executive sponsor involves approving the allocation of resources, approving project goals & objectives, and approving the project implementation roadmap. 

Primary sponsors:

  • Are responsible for overall project success
  • Approve budgets for a project
  • Allocate resources for project
  • Approve project goals, objectives, and implementation roadmap

Secondary sponsors are managers, senior managers, executives, heads of departments, or business leaders that have a “stake” in the game because their department or organization will be impacted in some way by the change.

Secondary executive sponsors are also referred to as key stakeholders for a project because of their ability to hinder or promote the project.

Secondary sponsors represent the various lines of businesses that will be impacted by a project, which is why they are also referred to as key stakeholders.

Secondary sponsors:

  • Oversee a department or organizational area impacted by the change project
  • Are senior leaders, managers, executives, etc. of an organization
  • Are not primarily responsible for the project
  • Can negatively or positively impact the success of a change project

Critical sponsors, often referred to as critical stakeholders because they may not yet be a project sponsor, are any leader or manager that is absolutely needed to support the project in order for the project to be successful. Critical sponsors are often highly influential and vocal managers within an impacted organization.

When critical stakeholders resist a project, the possibility that the project will fail is very high. Critical stakeholders may or may not be sponsors at this point in time, but it is essential that you identify these individuals, and include steps on your sponsorship plan for engaging with them and making them allies.

Critical sponsors:

  • May or may not be a project sponsor as yet
  • Play a critical role in the success of a project
  • Are highly influential and/or highly vocal organizational leaders
  • Need to support a project for it to be successful

Project Executive Sponsors - Types and Plan
Types of Project Executive Sponsors

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What is the Role of a Sponsor?

 Sponsors are often needed to wear multiple hats, and this section outlines the various roles of the different types of sponsors:

  • Primary executive sponsor
  • Secondary executive sponsor
  • Critical sponsor

 Role of Primary Sponsor

As mentioned above, the primary sponsor’s role is more than just signing the checks and overseeing the project. The role of the primary sponsor includes:

  1. Engaging with other leaders, including secondary sponsors and critical sponsors to get cross-functional buy-in at the leadership level
  2. Waterfall/cascade communications
  3. Advocate the change
  4. Being a liaison: Primary sponsors play a vital role in facilitating a 2-way communication channel. They liaise between senior leadership and the change management project team, providing information from the change team to leadership and from leadership to the change team.
  5. Solicit other leaders that can act as secondary sponsors
  6. Engage with managers that are resisting the change to convert them into allies
  7. Build a change coalition at the leadership level for supporting the change
  8. Being a visible face for the project
  9. Attending meetings, and playing a very active role
  10. Kicking off the project
  11. Resolving barriers
  12. … and more

Using a sponsorship roadmap checklist is essential to ensure that you are tracking what sponsors need to complete, as well as when these tasks have been completed. The downloadable AGS executive sponsor template provided below for free, also acts as a sponsorship checklist for tracking and managing sponsor tasks.

Role of Secondary Sponsor

As mentioned in one of the sections above, a secondary sponsor is a manager or leader that represents an organization that will be impacted by the change.

In some cases, some secondary sponsors will also be primary sponsors. Meaning that their organization is being impacted by the change, and they are also the ones funding the project.

Key roles for secondary sponsors include:

  1. Advocating and supporting the change. When change occurs, people turn to their managers and leaders for direction and support. Employees look to their supervisors not only for direct communication messages about a change, but also to evaluate their level of support for the change effort. If a manager only passively supports or even resists a change, then you can expect the same from that person’s direct reports. Managers and supervisors need to demonstrate their support in active and observable ways.
  2. Helping to waterfall/cascade communications
  3. Resolving barriers to the change within their organizations
  4. Playing a liaison role. Managers and supervisors play a vital role in facilitating a 2-way communication channel. They liaise between their respective groups’ direct reports, managers and employees and the change management project team, providing information from the change team to their group, and information (feedback, concerns, etc.) from their group to the change team.
  5. Recommending Change Champions from within their department. Change champions are employees within a group that help promote the change among their peers. A secondary sponsor can support the change effort by recommending individuals they manage for roles as change champions.
  6. They act as resistance managers. No one is closer to a resistant employee than his or her leader. In terms of managing resistance, managers are in the best place to identify what resistance looks like, where it is coming from and the source of that resistance. Because of this, secondary sponsors are best suited to actively manage resistance to a change within their group, whenever that resistance occurs. They can use the AGS Resistance Management Guide to hone in on which element of the change process is driving resistance and address it accordingly.

 Role of Critical Sponsor/Stakeholder

 A critical sponsor, also known as a critical stakeholder, is a manager or leader whose buy-in and support for a change project is absolutely vital to the project’s success.

The critical stakeholder holds an influential role in an organization and may also be very vocal about their support or resistance for a project. One of the roles of the primary sponsor is to get critical stakeholders onboard with a change project so it’s not derailed.

  1. Critical stakeholders are needed to support the project, and to increase the success of the change. These are normally vocal and highly influential managers within their organization.
  2. We need these stakeholders to be visible advocates, and to play a supporting role.

Related: Best Change Management Plan with Templates & Samples


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Using the Free AGS Sponsor Plan Template

 When creating your sponsorship management plan, you will want to include the names of these sponsors on the downloadable free AGS Executive Sponsor Spreadsheet provided below.

The spreadsheet also functions as your sponsorship roadmap – it includes fields for you to list out the specific actions that you need sponsors to complete as part of sponsoring the change.

As the sponsor completes his or her tasks, you can track their progress using the Progress Status column.

Change Management Sponsorship Plan

There is also a “Progress Status” column for tracking the change management or project management team’s tasks for engaging with sponsors.

Project Management Sponsor Engagement Plan

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Change Management Experience is Very Important

Sponsors are often needed to support change management activities (for example, helping to cascade communications, encouraging others to attend training, and also helping to mitigate resistance).

As such, it is essential that you understand each Sponsor’s change management experience, and document that information. Sponsors with low change management expertise will often require you to provide more coaching and engagement to them to help them fulfill their roles as Sponsors.

 


You Need to be the Caddy for These Sponsors

 Change managers and program leads need to play the role of a caddy for sponsors, especially those sponsors that are new to the role.

Executive Change Sponsor Buy-in and Support Plan

As a caddy your role is to make the sponsor’s role as easy as possible. Most leaders understand the concept of being good sponsors, but it often requires direction from the change team.

For example, you might need to tell the sponsor things like:

  • We need you, on this date, to speak to this group. Here are the talking points. Or we need you to speak to this group, what days and times work best for you? And here are the talking points.
  • We would like you to send a memo/email/communication with these key messages to these groups
  • We need your help. We would like you to conduct a 1-on-1 conversation with Manger X, who is resisting the change, and hindering progress

Use the downloadable sponsorship roadmap below to list the specific actions that you need each sponsor to complete, as well as the dates for which these needed to be completed. These will make up the sponsorship roadmap for each sponsor.

Sponsor Roadmap Plan
Sample Sponsorship Roadmap and Checklist

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Conclusion – Change Management Sponsorship Model

 We hope you have found this change management sponsorship guide to be useful. Sponsorship management is a critical component of an effective change management and project management program.

Having sponsors that are supportive of the change, will increase the success of the change being adopted by impacted groups. Oftentimes, change practitioners need to prepare sponsors to play visible and active roles for the projects.

Many times, sponsors have difficulty when tasked with advocating for a change because they have not been adequately prepared to do so. When populating the change management sponsorship plan below, make sure to include key steps that you will take to coach these sponsors.


Change Management Sponsorship Plan (Excel Spreadsheet)

 Click below to obtain the free sponsor plan offered by AGS for change practitioners, project managers, and anyone looking for a top free change sponsorship plan.

Free Sponsor Plan Template for Assessing & Managing Project Sponsors (Excel)

Executive Sponsor Plan and Roadmap

Free Downloadable Sponsor Plan Template (Excel)


Executive Sponsorship FAQs

What is an executive sponsorship program?

An executive sponsorship program involves senior leaders of an organization that are needed to sponsor and advocate for a change to increase the successful implementation of that change. Executive sponsors include primary sponsors, secondary sponsors, and critical sponsors/stakeholders.

What is the role of a sponsor?

The role of a sponsor is to approve the budget for a project, engage with other leaders to ensure leadership buy-in, and, most importantly, they provide active and visible participation throughout the duration of the project to increase the success of the change.

Can an executive be forced to function as a sponsor?

No, an executive cannot be forced to function as a sponsor. However, it is critical that you engage with all impacted executives to gain their buy-in and acceptance of the business change.

What is a good sponsor?

A good sponsor is an individual that visibly advocates for a change. The role of a sponsor is more than just signing the check on a project. A good sponsor engages with other leaders to gain leadership support for the change, and also helps with communication, engagement and resolving project barriers.

What is the role of an executive sponsor?

The executive sponsor’s role is more than just signing the checks for a project or overseeing the project. The role of the executive sponsor includes: Engaging with other leaders, to get cross-functional buy-in at the leadership level, helping to waterfall/cascade communications, advocating for the change, reducing resistance to the project, and supporting the project and change management teams as needed.


Authors: Ogbe Airiodion (Senior Change Management Lead) and Francesca Crolley (AGS Cloud Content Producer)
Content on Airiodion Global Services (AGS)'s Airiodion.com website is copyrighted. Questions? Contact Airiodion Global Services (AGS) .

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FREE Change Management Templates (Excel, PDF, PPT)

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