The difference between a Sponsor and a Supporter

Avoid Confusing the Notion of Sponsorship with Support

Various research studies, as well as our experiences, all indicate that strong, clear sponsorship from the outset is a critical success factor in any project. It ensures that there’s clarity on the outcome to be delievred and that the Senior business leadership is behind the change. For me it really brings to life the Irish Saying/proverb “Tús math, leath na hoibre” or in English “A good start is half the work“. Being clear on the difference between a Project Sponsor and a supporter is critical for the success of any major project. defines Sponsor as ” a person who vouches or is responsible for a person or thing” while a Supporter is “an adherent, follower, backer, or advocate”. So essentially you can see that the Sponsor is actively engaged and has a “Responsiblity” that goes far beyond being a bit interested in and generally supportive of what the project is about. Spoonsorship is active, visible participation and needs to be from a senior bsuiness leader who has power to make decisions and drive resources, funding and prioritisation for a project.

I see that it is the role of the project manager / change manager to ensure that their Sponsor is clear on their role as unfortunately it’s not always well understood. This is an interesting challenge as it’s usaually the sponsor that appoints the PM. All too often the Sponsor puts in a Project Manager and then fails to understand that they still need to be active in their engagement including leadership interventions, controlling the throughout the project.

Personally, I like to see that a Project Sponsor has a real incentive for the project being a success to ensure that they really are invested in its success for those times when the way forward isn’t simple. Ideally a combination of the following motivational factors are brought into play:

  1. Financial – risk and reward – the Sponsor has the opportunity to gain / lose financially depending on success.
  2. Performance KPI’s – the outcome delievrs a Sponsor’s KPI’s for their role, function or organisation
  3. Reputational – they’ve staked their good name on delivery
  4. Emotional – there’s something bigger driving them than obvious tangible factors.

Emotional may seem odd in this list, but it is a huge intrinsic motivator. It can manifest as a real desire for the change / project to happen due to either a vocal and visible commitment that has been made to the organisation or the purpose of the project is clearly aligned to their ambition or their purpose either personally or for the business. In my experience, an emotional reason will always beat or at least amplify every other reason.

Sponsors stick with the project all the way, but Supporters can ebb and flow throughout and can be vulnerable to external factors / influence that change their minds. Remember Supporters aren’t important to a project unless they hold a Stakeholder position and even then as long as they aren’t actively against it it may not be an issue.

Franky put, Sponsors MAKE a Project Happen, Supporters LET IT happen.


Shane is the Management Consulting Director with BDO Eaton Square where he works with multi-nationals, SME’s, Public and Private Sector clients to deliver commercial results in their organisations through Strategy Development, Organisation Design, Strategy Mobilisiation and Project Implementation. Shane uniquely brings together his industry experience in FMCG, Telcoms, Educational Publishing and Recreation with his Management Consulting experiences in private and public sector clients to deliver meangingful results through Strategic and operational changes.

Contact Shane at

Leave a Reply