Project sponsor roles and responsibilities


A Proven Guide to Managing Project Sponsors with a Free Sponsor Plan Template and Tool


Executive Sponsorship of a Change: Step-by-Step Sponsor Guide, Roles & Responsibilities

This free guide provides you with everything you need to know about project sponsors. It includes a step-by-step checklist and details, and free change management sponsorship plan templates.

Plus, Get a Free Sponsor Engagement Plan!

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 change management sponsor plan, roadmap, and sponsorship checklist offered below for engaging, managing, and working with your program sponsor(s).

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 sponsor plan increases your ability to engage with sponsors, and to coach them on their project sponsor role. 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 executive sponsorship guide outlined on this page, as well as the free AGS 360° project sponsor plan and template that you can obtain below and use for your project sponsorship engagement planning.

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

Ogbe Airiodion
Sr. Change Management Lead


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Do you have any feedback about this sponsor project management guide or have questions about the main role of the sponsor(s) in project management? Please reach out and let us know.


Table of Contents

Keep on scrolling down this page to read each section or click any link below to go directly to that section.

1. What Is a Project Sponsor? Definition
2. Types of Executive Sponsors – What You Need to Know
3. What is the Role of a Sponsor?
4. Role of Primary Project Management Sponsor
5. Role of Secondary Sponsor in Project Management
6. Role of Critical Sponsor/Stakeholder in Projects
7. Free Business Sponsor Management Tool
8. Using the Free AGS 360° Sponsor Plan Template – Excel and Cloud
9. Getting Started with Free AGS Toolkits
10. You Need to be the Caddy for These Sponsors
11. Conclusion – Change Management Sponsorship Model

Project sponsor role and free executive sponsorship template

Contact us if you have questions or feedback about this end-to-end AGS guide that is based on the Prosci sponsor roadmap and other change methodologies.


What Is a Project Sponsor? Definition

A project sponsor is a specific type of stakeholder. He or she is a manager or leader that is willing to sponsor a change or a person who has been mandated by the organization’s leadership to be involved in sponsoring a change.

Project sponsor responsibilities can vary widely.  For example, one role of an executive sponsor may be to approve a budget and participate in the financial areas of a project. Other responsibilities of project sponsors can include things like speaking with leaders to help mitigate resistance or helping spread awareness about the project.

There are many different answers to “What does a sponsor do?” which is why coaching is often part of the program sponsor engagement process. Coaching helps prepare a person for their project sponsor role and responsibilities.

You can review the Executive Sponsorship Spectrum image below to get an idea of the many areas that can be included in the role of a sponsor.

You’ll find that a sponsor in project management can be involved in things like:

  • Approving the Budget
  • Supporting the project
  • Coaching
  • Advocating for the change
  • Communicating with their team about the project
  • Acting as a liaison between the project team and their department
  • Helping to manage resistance
  • Assisting with overall change adoption

Sponsor project management - project sponsor meaning

Next, we’ll get into the different project sponsor roles and responsibilities as we explain the different types of project management sponsors. Let us know if you have any additional sample executive sponsor roles and responsibilities you would like to see included in this guide: contact AGS.


Types of Executive Sponsors – What You Need to Know

Irrespective of whether they are using an APMG change framework, a CCM, CMS, or Prosci sponsor roadmap, 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 project sponsor that you need to know when doing sponsor project management activities, as each type of sponsor will have a slightly different executive sponsor role.  

What is an executive sponsor? Let us start with the overall executive sponsor description.

Executive Sponsor Definition:

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 sponsorship can be separated into three categories:

  • Primary
  • Secondary
  • Critical

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


Overview of the Three Types of Program Sponsors

Primary sponsors, often referred to as project sponsors, are senior organizational managers. As part of their executive sponsor roles and responsibilities, they 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 sponsor role in project management:

  • 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.

The project sponsor meaning for secondary executive sponsors also includes being 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 project sponsor role:

  • 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 project sponsors, are any leader or manager that is absolutely needed to support the project in order for the project to be successful.

What is a project sponsor that’s “critical?” 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 or have project sponsor responsibilities, 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 project sponsor definition:

  • 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

What’s a Sponsor? | Types of Project Executive Sponsors

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Do you have any input or feedback on the additional responsibilities of project sponsors? Please, contact us and let us know. 


What is the Role of a Sponsor?

So, what does a sponsor do in a project? Sponsors are often needed to wear multiple hats and there are several responsibilities of project sponsors that need to be relayed during coaching and engagement.

This section outlines the project sponsor roles and responsibilities of the different types of sponsors:

  • Primary executive sponsor
  • Secondary executive sponsor
  • Critical sponsor

Project sponsor roles and responsibilities

Free Template for Assessing and Managing Change & Project Sponsors


Role of Primary Project Management Sponsor

As mentioned above, the primary sponsor’s role is more than just signing the checks and overseeing the project. The project sponsor 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 AGS executive sponsor template provided below for free also acts as a sponsorship checklist for tracking and managing sponsor tasks.

Also, if you happen to be using the Prosci Sponsor Roadmap Checklist, then the free AGS 360° Portfolio Sponsor Management Toolkit & Template will be a great complementary resource that allows you to track and manage all your sponsorship engagement tasks from the checklist.


Role of Secondary Sponsor in Project Management

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. This can mean that the role of the sponsor in project management can be similar to the primary sponsor type.

Key project sponsor responsibilities 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 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 in Projects

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 on board with a change project so it’s not derailed.

While a critical stakeholder/sponsor may not be a project sponsor in the same way as other types and may not have the same project sponsor role and responsibilities, they still need to be proactively managed. If not managed and engaged along with other project sponsor roles, the project can be in danger of failing.

What is a project sponsor that’s in the critical stakeholder role?

  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.

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Signup below for the free AGS project management templates for assessing and managing the project sponsors in your project management program. If you are interested in Excel templates, you can signup for our online version and export as a Sponsor Toolkit Excel download. 


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For those that are interested in Excel based change sponsorship management templates, you can easily export your cloud template as an Excel download for offline use.


Using the Free AGS 360° Sponsor Plan Template

When creating your project management sponsor plan, you will want to include the names of these sponsors on the AGS Executive Sponsor Spreadsheet & Toolkit provided below. (Your account is free!)

The template also functions as your executive 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 pertinent to their project sponsor role, you can track progress using the Progress Status column.

Change Management Sponsorship Plan

In addition to tracking the tasks you’ve assigned each project sponsor, there is also a task panel that allows you to track tasks and progress status for the change management or project management team’s tasks for engaging with sponsors.

Did we mention you can get this great cloud-based tool for sponsor project management AND the ability to work on 2 projects at the same time for FREE? (See how to get it below.)

Project Management Sponsor Engagement Plan

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Getting Started with Free AGS Toolkits

If you subscribe to one or more free AGS Toolkits, here’s how you get started!

Once you’ve subscribed, you’ll sign in and be taken to the 360° Main Dashboard page. To begin using your Toolkit(s), you would follow these steps:

  • Create a new project. (You get 2 projects with your free toolkit!)
  • Name your project.
  • Add additional project members (if you wish)
  • Check the box(es) to enable your purchased or free AGS Toolkit(s) for that project.
  • Save your project.
  • Click to go to the Home Page of your project.
  • Your AGS Toolkits will be there on the Project Home Page waiting for you to dive in!

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Change Management Experience is Very Important for Executive Program Sponsors

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 program sponsor’s change management experience, and document that information. Executive sponsors with low change management expertise will often require you to provide more coaching and engagement to them to help them fulfill their project management sponsor role.

 

Do you have questions about the role of executive sponsorship? Contact us to let us know.


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 and might wonder, “What is a project sponsor” when first approached.

Golf Caddy - Change Manager as Coach

As a caddy, your role is to make the sponsor’s role as easy as possible so they can successfully fulfill the project sponsor responsibilities. 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 Manager X, who is resisting the change, and hindering progress

Use the cloud-based or Excel 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 executive sponsorship roadmap for each sponsor.

Once you enter your sponsors and the project sponsor roles, responsibilities, and tasks, you can view real-time interactive analytics that will allow you to easily manage your sponsor engagement activities to keep your project on track.

Project sponsor role template and reporting dashboard

Sample AGS 360° Executive Sponsorship Checklist, Template & Reporting

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Conclusion – Change Management Sponsorship Model

We hope you have found this change management project sponsor guide to be useful. Project and program sponsor 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 and may be wondering, “What does a sponsor do?”

When populating the change management sponsor plan below, make sure to include key steps that you will take to coach these sponsors on the responsibilities of project sponsors in general and their expectations in particular.


Change Management Sponsorship Plan (With Excel Spreadsheet Capability)

Whether you like to work in the cloud or offline in Excel, all our AGS 360° Portfolio Toolkits provide you with a flexible, hybrid experience.

You can work in the cloud template from any device and any location or export your cloud template to an Excel sponsor spreadsheet and work offline. Then, when ready, upload your Excel sponsor plan to our cloud interface to see your real-time analytics and filter on multiple factors.

Your AGS Toolkit fits all workflows!

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

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Project sponsor roles and responsibilities


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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