Sponsoring New Leaders - Resource or Outsource?

In my project management training, one principle stood out as the root cause of most failures.  Any project that doesn't have good sponsorship fails.

A good sponsor is one who takes responsibility for the outcome. They listen, learn, and do the things necessary to make the rest of the team successful. Often success is totally dependent on a sponsor who takes responsibility and secures the resources necessary to get the job done.

A friend recently told me about a position he had been offered.  The organization didn't have a history of supporting that position. It was being created. In fact, this friend hoped the organization was turning over a new leaf by hiring him. He had visions of free reign and opportunity to do the things he felt were most important in this particular area of strength.

But if the organization isn't already trying some of the things you'd like it to do, what does that say?  I suggested to my friend that he consider, maybe even ask the person offering the position, if they were outsourcing the position to him or resourcing the effort with him.  Would he have to become his own sponsor?

Many organizations get the idea they need to make a change.  Change must have sponsors.  Big changes, heavily resourced, highly influential sponsors.  The bigger the organizational change, the more leverage will be required from the sponsor.  And if the sponsor has little leverage, the change effort will fail.

Resourced Leadership

Ideally, at least until your influence reaches the practical levels needed for success, your new opportunity will be resourced with you. Responsibility for success will rest with your supervisor or the existing sponsor until you have the credibility and the authority to become the sponsor on your own.  If this is you, resource your new leaders. Give them the authority and influence necessary before they've fully earned it. Initially, authority must come from a more senior leader or a higher position in the organization until the new leader can build their own credibility and influence. And if you're the new leader, work to develop credibility and your plan. Work to secure buy-in from your new manager and communicate with them early and often to secure the influence necessary to achieve the desired change.

Outsourced Leadership

If the organization and the existing leadership see you, the new person who must create influence and credibility as the sponsor, you may be walking into an under-resourced disaster.  Take time up front to detail your plan, align the necessary influencers and get buy-in at all levels in the organization.  Know before you say yes, what types of resources you'll need and what types of support you expect from your boss.  Ask as directly as possible, for clear answers about the types of resources and commitments the organization will make to insure your success in the effort.  Then as you begin to communicate your plan, work to earn the trust and support of the character-based leaders in the organization. These are the people who have influence and authority regardless of their position. Work to secure buy-in at all levels and avoid over-estimating your own influence. Often it takes years for new leaders to have the necessary credibility to make major changes in an organization.

Without clear understanding up front, and a solid foundation of buy-in, you may find yourself as the only resource for a non-essential initiative. You will always be working to get more resources and authority and never have the success you desire. Ask up front for the resources to succeed and then communicate regularly with your management about your progress and any new or modified needs you may have.

Has this ever happened to you?  Did you ever discover you were under-sponsored?  If so, what did you do to change the situation?  Were you successful?  Take some time to help my friend in the comments below.  Thanks in advance.


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