What is the biggest contributor to project success but can also be the biggest obstacle to change? The project sponsor. In Prosci's 7 benchmarking studies spanning from 1998 to 2011, active and visible sponsorship has been the #1 contributor to project success every year. Both in 2009 and 2011, ineffective sponsorship was the biggest obstacle to change. But of all the things projects focus on (scope, schedule, cost), sponsors are rarely given standards that they are measured against during the project.

When done well, project sponsors are the face of their project. More than just allocating funding, they are constantly on the road keeping their project in front of their peers and stakeholders. But more often than not, sponsors relegate themselves to project board meetings and occasional appearances at project milestone events.

So what should sponsors do and how do we get them to do it? Following Prosci's PCT model, there are 3 roles of a sponsor related to change management. They are active and visible participation, direct communication, and coalition building. Active and Visible participation means not just showing up to the project kickoff meeting, but being seen at town halls, supervisor meetings, and being available to all levels of the impacted organization. Direct communication means conveying information on the change (what and why) and providing opportunities for 2 way communication. Coalition building is strategically addressing resistant or negative stakeholders to create a unified leadership in favor of the project and advocating the change with their 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 3 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?