Why doesn’t my executive sponsor understand? Managing the communication divide stalling your project

As the principal partner of Solutia SDO, Jackie Clark has had a direct role in managing the people behind the technology that’s transformed businesses across Canada. When IT projects stall, this seasoned leader, who’s had a front seat watching tech transform business in Canada, knows how to manage people to get projects running again. This bi-weekly column is for leaders working on enterprise-wide projects searching for insight on navigating the issues and pain points that hijack success. We’ll be sharing the most common questions Clark hears from her clients and her responses to them. Do you want your project management problems solved? Leave a comment with your question or  Tweet Jackie @sdosolutia.

I’m a new project manager working on a really interesting finance project. I meet regularly with the CFO, my executive sponsor, to provide status updates. She’s very supportive but I sometimes feel that my communication hasn’t been as effective based on the questions she poses and some of the follow-up she requests. I was reviewing your blog post from last June about how to build presence and credibility with executive clients which has been helpful. Can you provide some advice on how to guide me to make sure I do the best job I can when communicating effectively my sponsor?

Sure, no problem. You’re right – effective communication is critical to successful project management and can potentially make or break the success. Here are some tips:

  1. Put yourself in their shoes — Figure out what information you would appreciate receiving if you held that position. Are you on budget and schedule? What risks and issues are you facing on the project? What might cause problems with her boss if not resolved? Deliver the bottom-line results first, then summarize. Make sure that you have detailed data to back up the information. Preparing with detail will give you confidence when delivering the summary, and you’ll be ready to field questions if asked.
  2. Be proactive — If you’re presenting a problem, always make sure you have prepared a set of mitigating actions. Your job is to let your sponsor know there is a problem and accompany that with a clear path forward. Don’t be afraid to ask for their help to resolve the issue. They will thank you for your straightforward and pragmatic approach.
  3. Keep it simple — Try to communicate the message in as few words as possible. It takes longer to write a clear, concise, short sentence than a long one. Executive sponsors are busy people. The short sentence may be read while the long sentence is ignored. Use meaningful graphics; avoid “cutesy” animation. Executive sponsors don’t want to feel that their time is being wasted on entertainment.
  4. Find the right medium and timing – Some executives like formal presentations at scheduled times, while others are happy with a message on WhatsApp at any time of the day. I don’t think it’s a great idea to use social media to communicate project status, but hey, the work world is changing! Ask your sponsor from the onset of your project what best suits their routine and plan around that.

Your project is only one of many things your CFO is responsible for. The bottom line in communicating with executive sponsors is to provide what they want and need in a manner that is meaningful to them. Taking the time to investigate their information needs will make your communication efforts much more effective and make you stand out as a premier project manager that she will make time to meet with and assist.




Jackie Clark
Jackie Clark
Program and change management expert in digital and data transformation, and technology system reengineering.

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