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Sponsorship of Change


Disciplines > Change Management > Sponsorship of Change

Four types of sponsor | The role of sponsor | Sponsorship traps | See also


In change projects, the normal hierarchy of management control is often broken as the project stretches across many parts of the organization. This hierarchy is replaced with sponsorship, where individual managers in the organization take on the temporary role of providing the formal authority by which changes are made.

As Change Manager, you need to have a good understanding of the nature of sponsorship and carefully assist and manage the various sponsors in the project.

Four types of sponsor

In managing change, you may need to understand and hence work with the four different types of sponsor.

Initiating sponsor

This is the person who starts the change project and may well be the person with whom you meet at the first meeting. They may be the key sponsor or maybe someone lower down the order. They may well be the person who asks you to manage or facilitate the change project.

Key sponsor

This is one person (often the most senior manager) who can resolve the stickiest of problems, such as differences between other primary sponsors, and who provides the ultimate authority for the project, and may have a hand in direction and approval.

You will need to spent quality time up-front with the key sponsor to understand their real needs. You should then meet regularly enough to ensure that they are in the loop and remain committed. If they drift away and show insufficient interest, then you may have to consider closing down the project.

Primary sponsors

This is a small group of managers whose support is critical and who have sufficient clout to unblock most problems, including problems with secondary sponsors. They are sometimes also called 'sustaining sponsors' and often work together as a core team.

To get the time and commitment of primary sponsors that you need, you will need to spend time with them, both individually and collectively, showing how close collaboration is very much in their interests (if it is not, then you need to connect with the key sponsor over this). You will also need to put appropriate effort into building this group into a cohesive and effective team.

Secondary sponsors

These are managers whose support is needed, albeit at a limited level. They are important at least as they have the ability to block change. However, if they were all to be members of the core team, then that team would become unwieldy and difficult to manage.

Excluding them from this team, however, can be a bad political move as they then may take revenge by refusing to cooperate or otherwise blocking progress. They thus require careful handling and usually need to be communicated with on a very regular basis. If you can't invite them to all meeting, then at least you can keep them up to date with progress and show how you are listening to them and taking their concerns into account.

The role of sponsors

The sponsors of the project can play a number of roles in the change project. The only role that the must not be allowed to play is sitting back and letting you get on with it. If any of these roles are not undertaken, then it will be necessary to discuss how these will be effectively performed. For example, the gatekeeper role may be played by an assigned manager. It is important that these roles are clearly blessed by the appropriate sponsor, and that sponsors will provide clear leadership, plus, consistent and final arbitration in any disputes.




Visionary Presenting and selling his or her vision of the new future, motivating people to work towards this future.
Gatekeeper Reviewing progress at defined milestones or ‘gates’, and only allowing continuation if milestone criteria are met.
Moneybags Holding the budget for changes and only paying for those projects and changes which meet the change criteria.
Unblocker Acting to remove resistance and other organizational blocks that hinder the changes being implemented.
Mediator Resolving disputes between people affected by the change.
Planner Active involvement in planning the change, then reviewing implementation of the change.
Leader Full involvement in all stages of the change.


Sponsorship traps

Mismanaging sponsorship is perhaps one of the main reasons why change projects fail. A common sponsorship trap occurs where sponsors see their role as an early agreement, but with no further engagement plus an open option to back out at any time. Such weak commitment is highly hazardous and must be exposed and managed if the change is to succeed.

Another trap for the change manager is not engaging sponsors early on, either through not realizing they exist or by assuming they will be ‘no problem’. When the project gets under way and things start to change, these people then feel left out and ‘take their revenge’ by obstructing the change.

When things are going wrong, if your sponsors are washing their hands of the project, then you are doomed. Managed well, however, they first will find it impossible to wash their hands (because you have ensured that they are regularly dipped in the soup). Good management also ensures they are well-connected into the project, not only physically but also mentally and emotionally.

See also


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