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It takes two to tango

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The 15th September event in Milton Keynes was the first one organised by the Midlands Branch following the summer break. During the presentation Nick Dobson, a principal consultant from CITI, identified 4 archetypes of project sponsors and facilitated a conversation leading the delegates to understand the characteristics of sponsors’ behaviours and to explore methods for addressing potential shortcomings in those behaviours.

The 4 identified archetypes of project sponsor behaviour were:

  • Absent; characterised as the type of sponsor who is never there at governance meetings and is unavailable when decisions and direction are required
  • Adversarial; this type is the aggressively confrontational sponsor.  They ‘brook no opposition’ or challenges and expect the PM to do what they are told and nothing/little else besides
  • Attentive (over); usually viewed as the micro-manager or the ‘long screw-driver’ sponsor.  Their behaviour usurps many of the PMs actions/decisions and tends to focus, heavily, on the delivery details
  •  Angelic; the angelic sponsor is the one who understands their role, discharges it punctiliously and supports the PM and other stakeholders appropriately in achieving return on corporate investment

Attendees were then invited to reflect and participate in the conversation by sharing their personal experiences and identifying the casual factors of the behaviours. 

During the second half of the presentation, the dialogue between Nick and the audience focused on areas that could be useful for focusing attention on in trying to fix the shortcomings in sponsors’ behaviours.  For ease of examination, these areas were sub-divided into four categories:

  • Behaviours (e.g. openness, honesty, trust, proactivity)
  • Tools (e.g. face-to-face contact, good documentation, decision-making mechanism)
  • Techniques (e.g. listening, influencing, demonstration of positivity and enthusiasm)
  • Values (e.g. integrity, dependability, responsiveness)

During the event, the participants observed a high degree of unanimity in their thinking, organisational behaviours and responses. The discussion has revealed that no one has formalised this significant body of understanding into practical tools and guidance and elaborating the probable causal factors of ‘absent’ sponsors and creating some simple, robust tools and processes that PMs could deploy would be a highly valuable exercise.
It appeared that much of what is wrong in the sponsor-PM relationship is down to a lack of understanding of the sponsor role.  Whilst 100% of the room had received formal PM development within the last three years, not one person was confident that any of their sponsors had ever received formal development with regard to the sponsor’s role – it is up to the project managers to help address this gap.

The meeting was rounded off by reaching some consistent conclusions:

1.    Perseverance in making the relationship work is necessary.
2.    It is vital to establish and maintain both good communications and a ‘live’ relationship.
3.    Clarity has to be gained and people must be held to their accountabilities and responsibilities.
4.    PMs should exhibit the ‘human touch’; this is not a procedural or automated environment, but a human interaction.
5.    The spirit and practice of partnership ought to be fostered by removing any trace of an ‘us and them’ environment – it can only be ‘us’.
6.    An adaptable approach has to be maintained.
7.    Shared clarity over objective and outcomes desired throughout and beyond the project is crucial.
8.    Appropriate acceptance of accountability and discharge of responsibility of the respective roles is equally vital.
9.    A genuine partnership is crucial to success: the situation is binary – both win or both lose.
10.    Whatever the problems the solutions lie as much in the hands of the professional PM as ever they do with the sponsor.

Nick’s presentation can be seen below and on the APM Resources page.

Jacob Achenbach
Chair of CPD Events, Midlands Branch
Nick Dobson
Principal Consultant, CITI


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