What is the biggest contributor to project success but can also be the biggest obstacle to change? The project sponsor. Prosci is the leader in change management research. Every 2 years since 1998, they survey hundreds of change management professionals to spot trends. In Prosci's seven benchmarking studies,, participants named active and visible sponsorship as the #1 contributor to project success. Similarly, in 2009 and 2011, ineffective sponsorship was the biggest obstacle to change. This is not surprising considering that out of all the things projects focus on (scope, schedule, cost), sponsors are rarely given standards that they are measured against during the project.

The best project sponsors are the face of their projects. More than just allocating funding, they are constantly on the road keeping their project in front of their peers and stakeholders. They work hard to drive the project's success. But,more often than not, sponsors relegate themselves to project board meetings and occasional appearances at milestone events.

So what should sponsors do and how do we get them to do it? According to Prosci's Project Change Triangle (PCT) model, which outlines the factors needed for a successful project , there are 3 roles of a sponsor related to change management. They are: active and visible participation, direct communication, and coalition building.

  1. Active and Visible participation means more than just showing up to the project kickoff meeting. It means interacting with the project team throughout the effort, being seen at town halls and supervisor meetings, and being available to all levels of the impacted organization.
  2. Direct communication means being a voice for the change, getting out there and talking about the what and why and providing opportunities for two-way discussion.
  3. Coalition building is strategically addressing resistant or negative stakeholders to create a unified leadership in favor of the project and helping them advocate the change with their own teams.

Knowing we need sponsor engagement and knowing what sponsor engagement means isn't enough. How do we get sponsors engaged? That's where having a change management practitioner comes in. The change management practitioner can coach the sponsor and break these three roles into smaller, actionable steps.

So what is your project doing to make your sponsor an effective, active, and visible force? Who is responsible for helping your sponsor be effective?