What do we know about Project Sponsorship? The best advice from the body of knowledge in 2021

One of the best ways to find out what is known about a topic is to check the academic research. Good research will build on the best of what has gone before so the best starting place is usually to find the most recent articles in the top journals using a keyword like “project sponsor”. However, the downside of this approach is that academic writing can often be hard to understand; so this post will try to help you makes sense of it all and succinctly present the status of the body of knowledge in 2021.

One of the more helpful recent papers was published in 2020 by Breese et al [1] (Figure 1). They, like others [2], point out that there is no consistency of terminology and no consistent understanding of what a project sponsor does. Breese et al. confirmed the APM were right and there were three common conceptions of the role held by senior managers [3] (Just doing the day job, The capable manager, Wearing two different hats) but that in fact only one of them was effective in realising benefits. Their conclusion is that project sponsorship is not business-as-usual, it is more than an executive’s day job. 

Figure 1 Most relevant recent articles on the project sponsor

Breese et al. are part of a small group of leading thinkers that recognise the most important role of the project sponsor is to see that their organisation realises the expected business benefits and implement the strategy of an organisation [4]–[6]. Almost all the other authors fail to explicitly differentiate between project management success (on-time on budget) and project success (realising business benefits) (Figure 2) and fail to acknowledge project success is more important [7], [8]. As a result, much of the advice for project sponsors includes information that is unnecessary, of less importance or is simply dysfunctional.

Figure 2 The difference between project management success vs. project success

With this background we can now present a summary of the best research on project sponsorship:

Key insight(s)SourceComment
Effective project sponsorship is focussed on realising benefits and implementing strategy[1]–[5], [9]The leading stream of thought – focussed on how you get results (benefits)
Their are many types of sponsor in practice[1], [3], [10]Identifies the common sponsor archetypes including ineffective sponsors, but no clear recommendation of one type over another
Key sponsor behaviours at different stages of the project lifecycle[10], [11]Reputable sources but the research is overly influenced by the North American PMI view of the world and mixes advice which is helpful for project management success with advice which leads to project success and it is difficult to identify which behaviours are more important
Project sponsors are critically important[12]–[14]Useful clarification of the critical role of the project sponsor but not enough authoritative guidance on what they need to do

Our book [5] is the most recent in the leading stream of thought (Figure 3). The book gives empirically tested guidance [15] to project sponsors in the form of 6 questions that they need to address to ensure their projects deliver benefits and implement strategy:

  1. What is the desired outcome?
  2. How much change is required?
  3. Who should be the sponsor?
  4. How do we measure success?
  5. Do we have the right project culture?
  6. Monitor: are we on track?

There will, no doubt, be more insights on how to govern projects effectively as we learn more in the future. However, for anyone in 2021 looking for the best advice for their time pressured project sponsor, they could do a lot worse than 6Q Governance™.

Figure 3 Most recent publication in the thought-leading stream on how a project sponsor can be more effective


[1]         R. Breese, O. Couch, and D. Turner, “The project sponsor role and benefits realisation: More than ‘just doing the day job,’” International Journal of Project Management, vol. 38, no. 1, pp. 17–26, 2020, doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijproman.2019.09.009.

[2]         O. Zwikael and J. R. Meredith, “Who’s who in the project zoo? The ten core project roles,” International Journal of Operations & Production Management, vol. 38, no. 2, pp. 474–492, Jan. 2018, doi: 10.1108/IJOPM-05-2017-0274.

[3]         APM, “Building Sponsors: future project leadership,” 2019.

[4]         A. ul Musawir et al., “Project governance, benefit management, and project success: Towards a framework for supporting organizational strategy implementation,” International Journal of Project Management, vol. 35, no. 8, pp. 1658–1672, 2017, doi: 10.1016/j.ijproman.2017.07.007.

[5]         R. C. Young and V. Zerjav, Project Benefit Realisation and Project Management: The 6Q Governance Approach. John Wiley & Sons, 2021.

[6]         O. Zwikael and J. Smyrk, Project Management for the Creation of Organisational Value. London: Springer, 2019. doi: 10.1007/978-1-84996-516-3.

[7]         T. Cooke-Davies, “The ‘real’ success factors on projects,” International Journal of Project Management, vol. 20, pp. 185–190, 2002.

[8]         D. Baccarini, “The logical framework method for defining project success,” Project management journal, vol. 30, no. 4, pp. 25–32, 1999.

[9]         M. van der Molen, Successful Project Sponsorship: A Time-Saver for the Busy Executive. Kogan Page Publishers, 2015.

[10]      A. Bucero and R. L. Englund, “Project sponsorship: Achieving management commitment for project success,” 2015.

[11]      T. J. Kloppenborg and D. Tesch, “How Executive Sponsors Influence Project Success,” MIT Sloan Management Review, vol. 56, no. 3, pp. 27–30, 2015, [Online]. Available: https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/how-executive-sponsors-influence-project-success/docview/1670982322/se-2?accountid=153081

[12]      R. Young and E. Jordan, “Top management support: Mantra or necessity?,” International Journal of Project Management, vol. 26, no. 7, pp. 713–725, 2008, doi: 10.1016/j.ijproman.2008.06.001.

[13]      D. Bryde, “Perceptions of the impact of project sponsorship practices on project success,” International journal of project management, vol. 26, no. 8, pp. 800–809, 2008.

[14]      J. Helm and K. Remington, “Effective project sponsorship an evaluation of the role of the executive sponsor in complex infrastructure projects by senior project managers,” Project Management Journal, vol. 36, no. 3, pp. 51–61, 2005.

[15]      R. Young, W. Chen, A. Quazi, W. Parry, A. Wong, and S. K. Poon, “The relationship between project governance mechanisms and project success? An international dataset,” International Journal for Managing Projects in Business, vol. 13, no. 7, pp. 1496–1521, 2019.



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