The Importance of Executive Sponsorship

"I exist to ensure that everyone who undertakes Priority Based Budgeting is successful and I have the unique opportunity to share my experience and insight with implementation with our partners and clients."

As a former city manager and two-time implementer of Priority Based Budgeting, I have often contemplated the question of what makes an organization successful. Aside from having great staff and supportive elected body, never underestimate the power of a strong leadership presence.

My current role with ResourceX as the Vice President of Customer Success is geared exactly toward what it sounds like.

I exist to ensure that everyone who undertakes Priority Based Budgeting is successful and I have the unique opportunity to share my experience and insight with implementation with our clients. I am a resource, encouragement and adjunct to organizations undertaking the PBB journey.

Before you dismiss this article as braggadocio, I will say that I have been far from perfect as a leader but have learned from my mistakes and especially some weak leadership at key moments and during key initiatives that I wish that I could go back and rectify. However, what I want to chronicle in this article is the necessity for having strong executive sponsorship when undertaking Priority Based Budgeting.

There are three primary pillars of success that we point to at ResourceX. They are executive sponsorship, project management and change management. However it all starts with strong leadership for projects and major initiatives that have an organizationally-wide impact.

I am sure that we can all recall a time when we were told to do a project or implement a change and then have our boss just disappear and provide no guidance, support, or communication around the request. To the employee, this can be a frustrating and lonely place to be. For the leader who airdropped the project and then flew off, this could potentially lead to a failed project.

Prosci, the global leader in change management, surveyed numerous organizations on the role of executive sponsorship and found some interesting conclusions. The graphic below from the 2018 Prosci study is very concerning in that 10% of executive sponsors were unclear as to what their role entailed and 17% lacked confidence to be truly supportive of their projects.

No one intends to introduce failure into their organization but what if there were a way to ensure greater success? What if we could help our major projects have a greater chance of success through intentional behavior and structures? The good news is that we can do this very thing by focusing on the three pillars of success and beginning with ensuring that we have strong executive leadership or sponsorship.

Why is having an executive sponsor so important in the first place? This question might be more easily answered by identifying the characteristics of a great sponsor. First and foremost an executive sponsor or leader needs to have outstanding communication skills. Part of the success of any change initiative is ensuring that you have a clearly articulated vision for why you are undertaking a particular project in the first place. This cannot be accomplished without a sponsor who is unable to impart this information to their organization.

Author Daniel Pink talks about the key characteristics that motivate people as being autonomy, mastery, and purpose. An executive sponsor provides two out of three of these facets with fostering an environment where autonomy exists as well as providing a strong and compelling vision that assists with the creation of purpose.

Hand in hand in communication is the ability to create excitement and interest throughout the organization by displaying an enthusiastic passion for a project. I don’t know about you, but I am not inclined to follow someone into battle who is lukewarm or passive toward a project or goal. Passion, energy and enthusiasm are infectious and can help engage people and encourage them to coalesce to conquer an objective.

As I mentioned earlier, we can all recall a time when a leader drops a project on us and then disappears. A strong leader stays engaged and is visible throughout the course of a project. An executive sponsor’s main role is to be visible and supportive of a change initiative or project. You cannot truly walk the walk and talk the talk if you disappear. One certainly cannot provide resources and monitor the progress of a project if they are not around.

How does all of this relate to Priority Based Budgeting? As I mentioned in my introduction, I have made a lot of mistakes in my leadership over the years and following the characteristics of a good executive sponsor is one of the areas that I have really had to work on to master.

My first implementation of Priority Based Budgeting in Idaho was not as successful as it could have been because I failed to focus on stakeholder engagement. I was so enamored with the functionality of the methodology and wanted to reap the benefits after the implementation but I did not focus enough upon the people being impacted by the change.

Having failed to clearly communicate and articulate the “why” for PBB across the organization stunted the success of the implementation and tool and ultimately hampered the long term sustainability of the implementation. Not only was communication a key ingredient that was missing but also the consideration of those that would be impacted by the implementation. The absence of change management was a detriment as well but we will focus on that topic in a later discussion.

The next time you or your organization plan to start a new project or initiative, think about how you will intentionally plan to have strong sponsorship. It can make or break your project’s success. Prosci’s studies on this topic prove that an executive sponsor very strongly influences the success of a project.

The next time that you undertake a project or initiative that will impact many employees, ensure that you communicate, build a supportive coalition around your project, and be active and available.

For more information or coaching on executive sponsorship, feel free to reach out to me at Also, stay tuned for material on the importance of culture and change management in the near future. To your success!

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