How To Be a Good Executive Sponsor (With Characteristics)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated December 19, 2022

Published October 21, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A small team gathers to discuss strategy.

For a project to succeed, it's often necessary to form a team. Sometimes, companies appoint executive sponsors to coordinate teams and lead them as they complete projects. If you're an executive sponsor, knowing how to manage a team effectively can help improve efficiency, boost morale and help you accomplish project goals.

In this article, we define this role, explain how to be a good executive sponsor and list characteristics typical of someone successful in the position.

What is a good executive sponsor?

An executive sponsor is a high-level executive who oversees the ideation and execution of a project. A good executive sponsor is accountable for the project's success and aligns the project with the company's mission.

They're present from the beginning of the project and sign off on the project's vision and cost-value analysis. They may also offer suggestions about team construction or the timeline and project results or goals. Here are some responsibilities of an executive sponsor:

  • Guiding the project manager and team

  • Advocating for resources with other departments

  • Defending the importance of the project

  • Securing funding

  • Understanding and communicating project priorities within the departments

  • Helping resolve issues

  • Advising and supporting the project manager

  • Communicating progress to other executive-level colleagues

  • Keeping stakeholders informed about the project's progress

  • Helping create new ideas for projects and initiatives that increase business progress

  • Monitoring the success of their team and the performance of the project team members

Related: How To Be a Good Executive Sponsor (With Characteristics)

How to be a good executive sponsor

A good executive sponsor is someone responsible for the project and available to the team. Here are some steps you can follow to be a good executive sponsor when sponsoring a project or initiative:

1. Establish expectations

As the most executive member of the project, it's your job to create and communicate expectations with the project manager and the team. Start your project by establishing a clear understanding of shareholder expectations. Also, clarify project goals, how this project can help meet company goals and team capabilities. This can set the project manager up to achieve the success that all parties want to see.

Before the project begins, take time to consider what you want to accomplish and speak with team members and leadership to get a good idea of what you expect from the project. During the project, you can refer to those expectations when evaluating updates. You can help the project manager stay on track and maintain accountability for the project's overall vision.

Related: 6 Well-Paying Project Manager Positions To Consider

2. Communicate with your project manager

One of your central responsibilities is guiding the project manager and ensuring the project is successfully on schedule and on brand. The project manager directs all aspects of the project, such as team members, budget, vendors and schedule.

To maintain a clear understanding of the project progression and what additional resources the team may need, choose and use effective methods of communication with the project manager. Establishing this communication can also save time and frustration if the project manager needs help solving any problems.

3. Take responsibility for the project

As the executive sponsor, you're the highest-ranking member of the team. You're accountable for the ideation of the project and your subordinates' actions. The success of the project is ultimately under your control.

A good executive sponsor recognizes this and takes responsibility for the project. You can do this by staying informed about the project, making yourself available to give advice and representing the project to other executives or departments.

Related: The 5 Project Management Process Groups (Plus 10 PMBOK Explained)

4. Trust your project manager

Your project manager is responsible for most of the project, including operations, communications, scheduling and budgeting. However, you're available to support the project manager and provide guidance. Trust your project manager to perform their duties, including deferring to you if they have questions.

Establishing communication and expectations can help build this trust between an executive sponsor and a project manager. During the project, you can entrust your project manager to do their job but remain available for questions. Remind your project manager that your role can add efficiency when you help answer questions so they don't need to use trial and error or research an answer.

Related: 50 Project Management Terms To Understand in 2022

5. Support your team

During a project, you provide the resources, funding and direction that your team needs to be successful. You champion the project to other departments, members of the executive team and shareholders. You can use your position as an executive to confront roadblocks within the company that the project manager may not feel comfortable challenging. Additionally, you can advocate for more resources, like time or funding.

6. Encourage feedback

Before the project begins, speak with your team about their expectations of your role. If you've worked together previously, you can discuss past projects and their success. After you've finished the project, you can ask for a report on the project's success, the allocation of resources and how the team used your guidance for the project's completion. Asking for feedback can also help you develop an understanding of the other team members, so you can better advocate for them in the future.

Related: Positive Feedback: Why It's Important and How To Deliver It

Characteristics of a good executive sponsor

Here are some of the personal characteristics of a good executive sponsor:

Receptive

An executive sponsor listens with the goal of understanding the needs of their team when executing a project. They can appropriately adjust expectations and work with the project manager to reallocate funds or resources. Listening helps an executive sponsor stay informed and remain helpful to their team.

Related: 8 Strategies To Improve Your Listening Skills

Admirable

A good executive sponsor is often a role model and mentor. They advise their project manager and other members of the team. Investing in the training and mentorship of team members can increase a team's productivity and success rate. Executive sponsors can provide clear direction and trust, helping a team work faster and with a more clarified purpose toward a common goal.

Related: What Are Milestones in Project Management? (With Examples)

Observant

An observant executive sponsor can see and interpret the meaning of different behaviors. These behaviors can identify a lack of resources, confusion about the project's purpose or execution of the project.

Recognizing these signs early and understanding how to deal with them is essential to being a good executive sponsor. As the person who's ultimately responsible for the project's success, it's important that the sponsor be observant enough to recognize oncoming challenges and address them.

Related: 11 Project Management Soft Skills To Help You Lead Teams

Strategic

The executive sponsor is often the person creating the initiatives that their team executes. They use strategy to compare current business performance against future business goals.

Executive sponsors can observe the actions of their competitors and other departments to find strategic ways to improve company performance. They create projects that implement organizational initiatives and long-term goals to ensure that each project achieves a strategic purpose.

Communicative

Executive sponsors are communicators who are adept at planning and collaborating on project initiatives. They can express their vision for each new initiative and inspire their coworkers to enact change in their company. They also express their expectations for each element of the initiative, communicating them accurately and completely.

Related: Management Communication: 18 Ways Managers Can Improve It

Progressive

A capable executive sponsor is progressive and forward-thinking in their project management ideas. They adapt quickly and identify trends within the company and industry in order to increase performance.

They lead their team to embrace change and update any technology, sourcing or methods that would improve efficiency and productivity. This helps them improve business operations and initiatives while staying on brand and impressing shareholders.

Related: 6 Important Workplace Adaptability Skills (With Examples)

Influential

A good executive sponsor can exert influence through their communication and job position. Persuasion can help them establish new initiatives by gaining support for their projects. They also may use their influence among higher-level management to arrange for resources or adjust their project's priority.

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