Multiple contributing factors can lead to project failure, though a Project Management Institute (PMI) report from December 2014 cites low sponsorship engagement as playing a primary role.

The report notes that, in low-performing organizations, approximately 43% of project failures can be linked back to insufficient executive sponsorship, compared to 23% in high-performing organizations. This can be quite costly, considering low-performing organizations waste 10 times more financial resources, due to the lack of sponsorship alone. And, although 76% of surveyed respondents agree that the role of the executive sponsor is growing in importance, less than 67% of projects and programs have an identifiable executive sponsor.

SEE: Application/Project Development Policy (Tech Pro Research)

The areas in which project sponsors may be falling short

There seems to be a gap between what project managers (PMs) and sponsors report in terms of the levels of motivation, active listening, communication, and change management support received or provided.

  1. Motivation: 34% of PMs say sponsors motivate their teams frequently, while 82% of sponsors say they do so frequently.
  2. Active listening: 42% of PMs say sponsors frequently listen actively, while 88% of sponsors say they do so frequently.
  3. Communication: 47% of PMs say sponsors frequently communicate effectively, while 92% of sponsors say they communicate frequently.
  4. Effective change management: 37% of PMs say sponsors manage change, while 82% of sponsors say they do so frequently.

These gaps seem to indicate a significant disparity between expectations on both sides, and can play a major role in missed objectives and ultimately higher rates of project failure. If a project leader and sponsor aren’t in alignment when it comes to roles and expectations, how can a PM lead a team without encountering significant and potentially unresolvable issues? Further, if at its highest level, a PM is not unsupported, how can he/she achieve all the desired goals?

SEE: Project communications: What works, and what doesn’t (TechRepublic)

How project sponsors can bridge this gap

Sponsors must play a role at the project, program, and portfolio levels that furnish leaders and teams with the resources, opportunities, tools, and training they need to accomplish the goals they’ve been tasked with. To do anything short of this would be setting teams up for inevitable failure to a great extent.

What can project sponsors do to bridge this gap and increase project, program, and portfolio success? Here are four recommendations.

  • Garner support from executives: Sponsors hold significant influence and need to help project teams increase success rates by garnering support from senior executives for all projects. This will also help the company attain its goals.
  • Resolve difficult roadblocks/issues: It’s common in project management for teams and project leaders to encounter issues that require escalation. Sponsors can play a pivotal role in helping teams move beyond roadblocks, and focus their efforts on areas of strength.
  • Manage stakeholders’ expectations: From the onset of a project through its completion, sponsors can greatly assist project leaders in smoothing the path to success by helping to manage stakeholder relationships and expectations.
  • Be project champions: The overall role of a project sponsor is to be a champion that supports, guides, and promotes the project’s purpose and associated activities; this creates project visibility and an environment that’s conducive to success. Sponsors also help solidify the project management culture and mentor project leaders. It’s important for project teams and stakeholders to see and connect with sponsors, instead of viewing them as elusive and lurking only in the background.

SEE: Download: 10 best practices for successful project management (TechRepublic)

A multi-level approach to project success

Project management success requires a multi-level approach that includes stakeholders, project teams, a PM, sponsors, and executive buy-in. In order to afford project leaders and teams the best chances for success, sponsorship should be an up front, visible, and integral part of project management. By doing so, it solidifies end-to-end buy-in and establishes a greater connection between tasks, milestones, and company-wide strategic objectives. The sponsorship role is one of great responsibility and great reward.