The Project Champion: A Management Best Practice



project champion

At the start of every project, hopes are always high. Expectations will be exceeded. Deliverables will be timely. Customers will be amazed with the end result and zealously recommend potential clients.

Unfortunately, that is not always the case. There are times when projects go horribly off kilter. Timelines are missed, products or services do not live up to the customer’s vision and realization of success dwindles, creating a threat to customer relations and, even more damaging, the reputation of a business.

What consistently yields a positive outcome to projects of all scopes and sizes? The answer is far less of a what and more of a who. The true advocate for a project, and the gatekeeper of a project’s heroic success or dismal failure – is a project champion.

So What Is a Project Champion?

The project champion is the person within an organization implementing a project who takes on the burden of ensuring everyone involved is on board and behind the ultimate success of the project.

They are responsible for:

  • Identifying a project’s strategic objectives.
  • Working with the project team to ensure the vision for the project is successfully translated into the requirements and solution design.
  • Critically analyzing and ensuring best practices.
  • Identifying and eliminating obstacles that may threaten a project’s viability within the organization itself.
  • Prioritizing project phases based on value.
  • Relaying timely updates to all managers and client contacts impacted team members.
  • Appropriately allocating and organizing internal resources to ensure the successful completion implementation or adoption of a project.

They don’t take “no” or “I don’t have the time” for an answer. They keep everyone’s eyes on the prize that represents the successful implementation of this project.

A project champion is the unfeigned, authoritative and, at times, veracious champion of a project.

A bona fide project advocate, a project champion is typically a member of senior management or critical expertise that strengthens a project’s value by adding formidable experience to the mix. Accurately and efficiently delivering project success.

Seven Traits of a Project Champion

1) Qualifications and aptitude to understand all elements of the project.

2) Capacity to meet and exceed expectations of management.

3) Ability to motivate and inspire a team to buy in and become engaged in the project’s success.

4) Finesse to negotiate with all parties to ensure project success.

5) Exceptional problem solving abilities and the resourcefulness to defeat obstacles.

6) Superior organizational talents, and a knack for keeping team members on track.

7) Stellar communications skills, keeping all project stakeholders aware and engaged.

A project champion greatly reduces the likelihood of project failure. On the front lines of any project, and in direct communication with the entire team at all times, the project champion is the protector of a project. A critical sentry devoted to delivering a victorious project that thrills management.

Once one project or stage is complete, the project champion leaps into action to get the next one rolling – a hero in the lifecycle of project management.

Champion Photo via Shutterstock

24 Comments ▼

Chris Miles Chris Miles is Founder and CEO of Miles Technologies, an award-winning IT, custom software, web design and online marketing firm in Moorestown, New Jersey. Miles Technologies in 2013 developed business by MILES, a Web based business operations platform designed to support all business functionalities. Miles is an expert in IT and business solutions.

24 Reactions
  1. I agree that a project champion is a necessary role that must be fulfilled in order for a company to successfully complete a project or systematic change. I also think that the seven traits Chris lays out for what it takes to be a successful project champion might be hard to find in one person. In my experience, some leaders are very good at inspiring their followers to push forward through challenges, but they might not be as successful at solving problems or staying organized. I think that, while a project champion with ALL of the traits described above would be the ideal person, we should not discount other leaders who might also be able to help take on a champion role, without fulfilling all of these traits perfectly.

  2. As a contractor that has been employed as a PMA, Project Manager, and Program Analyst, I understand and truly value having a champion on-site. A champion is an advocate of sorts that keeps your project, budget, and/or initiative relevant. They are usually in rooms you are not pushing your initiative or program forward. Not having one can be the end of your project or cause of reductions in budget or change of scope.

  3. Project champions are a vital to the life of the project. I like the term ‘advocate’ used to describe the project champion. Someone whose only prerogative is making sure that the project has everything it needs to be completed on time and on budget. I think it is an important distinction that the leader does not have to be the project champion. Someone who is closer to the ins and outs of the project may be a better fit. After looking at what a project champion does, I am left wondering what type of person makes for project champion. What professional experience would someone want to see in a candidate when looking for a project champion?

  4. A project champion is someone that is always required in organizations when there are difficult things to achieve. Someone from the team has to step up and make things happen while leading the way. The hardest things to find in a company are precisely the ideal candidates for project champions. However, I also believe that a trait that is missing happens when the project champion is missing. Moreover, there should be someone else that he or she has previously coached and trained so in absence of the person another leader can step up and make the team work together.

  5. The article is an interesting article in that it references some of the characteristics required to be a successful project manager. However, it fails to take into consideration the practical undercurrents of an organizations’ structure regarding the intrinsic humanistic and cultural norms adopted by the company. The way in which an organization relates to its’ members as well as the reputation that the organization has developed throughout its’ existence. These are important factors associated with the success or lack thereof for the “project champion”. These are factors that can and will limit the range and scope of the project managers ability to get things done in a way that fluidly moves his or her ideas forward.

  6. This article is very interesting in how they are in talks of what it means to be a great project manager or in their words a project champion. With being a project champion in this article its discussed to be the person that takes on the burdens of getting everyone involved with the project on the same page to ensure a successful project. To me I see that these seven traits to be a successful project champion can transform project managers to another level with being more successful.

  7. As we look into important traits of a Project Champion, the first aspect that Miles points out is that they should have the correct qualifications and be one who understands ALL elements of the project. In order for a Project Champion to lead their team towards its highest potential, I believe that they should have experience in as many areas of Project Management as possible. Having such experience will allow them to truly understand all elements of the project. In turn, this will increase the effectiveness of motivating, solving problems as well as keeping the team on track towards success.

  8. Starting a project often goes with anxiety and fear of the unknown despite high hopes. However, overcoming fear opens doors to great heights. If results are beyond expectations, success stories’ pages keep turning unless nature strikes like the COVID-19 pandemic ravaging the globe’s health and economy since late 2019 to present.

    “When you enter the range of 40 to 70 percent of all available information, think about making your decision… never wait too long, never run out of time” (Yoest, 2017, p. 107).

    From leadership experience so far, the possibility of carrying everyone on board for championship seems unrealistic. Of course, there would be opposition group and those who take longer time to come on board. I agree with Professor Yoest that, 40 to 70 percent key support to move forward and exceed expectations while keeping an eye on the remaining 30 percent or more taking their time to come on board.

    Reference
    Yoest, J.W. (2017). The Memo: How the Classified Military Document That Helped the US Win WWII Can Help You Succeed in Business. Nashville, NY: Post Hill Press

  9. Project champions serve as liaisons between project team members and management. Often projects start with enthusiasm but later fail at the implementation or post implementation stage. Project champions serve an important role in any organization because they engage the right people to assist with bringing the change vision to life. The role of project champion is often taken on rather than given by senior management. Therefore, project champions may or may not have the authority to make change happen.

  10. Michael A. Harris

    The functions of a project champion is as important as the person behind the role. More times than not, an individual takes on the role or is given the role but lacks the leadership necessary to deliver in an appropriate way. I’ve witnessed cases where this was true, however the project did not suffer due to the leadership surrounding the would-be champion. In most cases, the make-up of the project’s team outweighs the sole champion.

  11. DeAndre' M. Baker

    While I agree with all seven of the project champion traits, I can’t say that I agree with all of the outlined responsibilities. To echo the sentiments of previous commentators, I think it depends on the structure of the organization and the dynamic of the project and the project team.

    A project champion can be a powerful asset to a project manager if utilized properly, but if mismanaged, it can lead to scope creep due to a lack of change control and oversight. In my experience, I have witnessed both weak and strong matrixed projects become lost and chaotic due to a lack of oversight in these areas. Simply put, the project team didn’t know who was calling the shots, because project champions could not be distinguished from the project manager(s).

    It all boils down to two things: responsibility and ultimately, communication. Enforcing best practices, relaying timely updates, and translating the project vision are all acceptable responsibilities for a project champion, but reallocating resources, prioritizing project phases, or eliminating risks borderline infringes upon the integrity of the project, its schedule, and deliverables; Ultimately these are things that the project manager will be held accountable for.

    Yes, having highly skilled and intuitive individuals leading teams to complete project work and advocate the success of the project to stakeholders is a large asset, however that power should come with limitations. I also believe it’s possible to have multiple champions on a project, usually at each phase or sometimes one for each work package.

  12. The most significant traits of a project champion are numbers 5 and 7 listed above. In order for project champions to be successful and guide organizations through change and resistance, they must have effective communication skills. These cannot be learned overnight. Project champions develop communication skills through research and study, as well as through trial and error. Every organization needs different forms of communication, and it is on the leader to determine what communication is effective and necessary. Leaders who want to be project champions need to understand this. I have seen sports team captains fail at communicating with their teammates, which leads to further issues on the team. Additionally, the second most important trait of a project champion is the ability to overcome challenges and problem-solve. The most effective leaders are the most adaptable ones. They recognize issue and find ways to be better. Stubborn and closed-minded individuals cannot be project champions. It is reality that all teams, organizations and companies will face challenges, so it important to have leaders who can overcome them in the most effective way for the entire organization.

  13. Reading this makes me wonder if there could be a champion who possesses all of these traits. Because the champion role is one that is appointed, could it be that one could grow into this role? We all need someone to monitor resources, be an expert in communication and relay information to stakeholders and workers, but the traits themselves seem incredibly dynamic for one person. That’s a lot of weight. Could two people serve as champions? I also strongly believe that the responsibilities and traits would vary greatly depending on the type of team and the scope of the project. But perhaps this was just an outline and not an exact model for what a project champion would look like.

  14. The project champions are often the bridge between the completion of a well done project and the members within a group. whether it is a smaller grade school project or a large corporate project we can often see this type of person step up among the group. They understand what needs to be completed, by when it needs to be completed, and the limitations the group may have. The project champion above most all else must be an effective communicator. When working with a team communication is one of the first steps of establishing a clear direction and the project champion is usually the catalyst for this.

  15. Marina Pontes Oliveira

    While the responsibilities of the stated project champion are indeed great, why not simply add those to the project manager? As per my understanding s/he holds it to begin with anyways. Great PM’s are responsible for making sure that all involved are committed and working towards the ultimate goal, even in matrixes or functional structures. In these cases, s/he has the responsibility to coordinate with the other managers priorities and staff. Great leaders are inspiring and have their teams onboard, whether they are project managers or not. I feel that adding this extra individual could lead to confusion between staff members regarding who’s responsible and who’s decisions to follow.

  16. A project champion is deeply devoted, invested and one would hope, voracious concerning its success. I’ve seen comments referring to the champion as a facilitator, liason, an advocate, etc based on project context and role within the group, especially when differentiating the champion from the leader or manager. I believe we can also add sponsor, and to a slightly lesser degree, mentor to the list. Taking into account the various qualities and skills this project champion must have – engaged, dedicated, enthusiastic, knowledgeable, supportive, high-performing, experienced, respected, influencer, org culture expert, protector – this ideal project champion sounds to like a hero indeed.
    However, I have had the privilege to meet a small number of individuals who have displayed the 7 project champion traits above, and while I may feel the responsibilities section blurs the line between project manager and project champion, I agree these individuals can be integral to a project’s success.

  17. I like this idea of a project champion and the notion that knowledge and people skills combined together create an unstoppable successful force, but I have trouble believing that although this formula may work far more often than it does not, that it may not be foolproof or the best option in all cases. Regardless, I think a project champion is like an experienced salesman. They know about the items they have to sell but they also have to know how to sell it. Nobody just wants to know about anything but they also must have their heart captured to be swayed to buy what it is you are selling. You sell the emotional piece and the tangible good and you win. The project champion has the same responsibility. They must bring about success by what they know and show people they know while also selling the emotional piece for employees to buy in and also be a part of the successful process.

  18. Great article, Prof. Yoest. A theme I see in the seven traits of a project champion is that he needs to know how to talk to and empathize with people (people skills). A project champion should be able to motivate, inspire, communicate and organize others with elegance and finesse. Unlike what I often see, it is not simply enough to have someone who can sit atop the hierarchy and bark orders at the people below. A manager who only talks to employees when he needs something is hardly a project champion. A project champion is a person of authority who cares about the whole employee, and not just the work that he brings.

  19. In reading this article and thinking back on all that I learned from this class, it revealed to me that there is no way that anyone can be a “perfect” leader, everyone can have this information at their finger tips, but no one can do all of these things at the same time. Sometimes you have to remain on organized and sometimes you have to focus on problem solving. In some moments you have to focus on building rapport with your employees and other times you have to correct and be the leader. All of these things make a good leader, but then some people are just not good in some areas, everyone has their areas of expertise, and so they can not be perfect in all areas.

    I like the idea of a project companion because I have been a part of many things were everyone involved is not as passionate as others or feel that they belong in the group. I think the companion can bring light to why everyone’s job is equally important and why everyone’s work leads to the success of the entire organization.

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