Also known as a project sponsor, an executive sponsor is an individual who serves as the guiding light for some type of project, both in terms of providing leadership and resources that help to bring the project to fruition. Depending on the nature of the organization in which the project is taking place, this sponsor may also serve as the project manager. An alternative approach is for another member of the project team to act as the manager, while the executive sponsor serves in an advisory capacity, offering support and ideas to the project team at large.
The exact role of an executive sponsor may vary from one situation to the next, but there are a few core aspects of this role that are often present. Typically, the sponsor will have a significant role in supporting the project both in terms of relating it to the wider function of the company who has launched the project, and among the team members who are directly engaged in the project itself. From this perspective, the executive sponsor works to advocate the project to all parties, keeping interest high and motivating team members to overcome obstacles and move the project close to a successful completion.
At times, this advocacy on the part of the executive sponsor also includes defending and promoting the project when others would just as soon prefer the project to be abandoned or in some way marginalized in the overall function of the corporation. Here, the sponsor will work to keep support as high as possible, pointing out the benefits that the project will eventually provide. When successful, the executive manager can overcome all sorts of opposition, including concerns about the amount of resources devoted to the project and the amount of time it will take for the project to begin generating returns.
An executive sponsor is also likely to be involved in the day to day aspects of the project. This often means helping to draft and maintain budgets associated with tasks essential to the ultimate success of the effort, approving expenses and signing off on processes and procedures that involve the use of other types of company assets, and even in being responsible for where the project is and how well it is proceeding. In this sense, the executive sponsor is the one who is ultimately responsible for the project itself and who remains accountable to the company at large for its success or failure.