QI Senior Sponsors play an essential role in the delivery of all improvement work at CNWL. Without a sponsor, a project can stall, lose sight of the original purpose or address issues that are not an organisational priority. The role of the sponsor is to support teams to deliver meaningful change, at pace. This document outlines what the role of a sponsor is and how a sponsor can help to support a QI Project Team.

Who is a sponsor?

Typically a sponsor is an established leader or manager, who holds influence within the service and/or Division; usually a senior member of staff who has oversight of the service, ward or team involved in the improvement project.  It is ideal to have a sponsor who has some direct managerial responsibility for the service in which a QI project is to take place.  This means that the sponsor does not need to be the ‘most senior manager in the Division’, but someone who is closer to and knows about the service. 

What is the role of a sponsor?

The role of the sponsor is to work with the team lead to agree the focus of the improvement work and sign off the project at the outset, giving the project team ‘authority to act’.  Sponsors do not generally attend project team meetings, but do need to get regular updates on progress to ensure that work is progressing as planned, and if any issues arise, to unblock these quickly.  Sponsors may well be the link between the project team and local governance structures, such as care quality groups or senior management teams. 

Sponsors also provide encouragement to the team helping them to feel that their efforts are valued.  They may also agree that protected time is available to team leads and/or members to allow them to do the work that the project may involve.

What are the sponsor’s responsibilities?

  • Champion the improvement project across the service/division, including at senior and operational forums
  • Ensure all in the service are aware of the basic premise and purpose of the project
  • Give the project team the support and resources needed to take the project forward at pace
  • Have occasional project meetings with the project team
  • Provide expertise and advice on the changes, as needed
  • Challenge the ‘team’ (the core QI project team and the wider service team) on progress and seek remedial action as required. (Using Life QI)
  • Discuss with the team the methodology they are using in their project
  • Seek assurance using data
  • Support the team to overcome barriers and keep moving forward
  • Share successes and support spread and adoption of change throughout the service

Sponsors are:

  • Senior members of staff with a connection to the project team
  • Supportive, but also hold teams to account for progress
  • Regularly updated on progress and may intervene if work is not going as planned
  • Ultimately responsible for the team’s performance
  • Responsible for escalating any problems to Divisional management; this can include issues or concerns that are beyond the scope or influence of the team to be able to change

Sponsors are not:

  • Command and control officers who direct how the team does the work


The infographic above is useful to think about the behaviours of a good sponsor.  The behaviours should not be unfamiliar; they are the characteristics that are seen in any supportive leadership position.  But it is good to remind ourselves to practice these behaviours in our improvement work.

Reporting and Communication

The mechanism by which project teams can efficiently communicate what is going on in their project is the use of highlight reports, which detail whether the project is on track, the major risks, what was done in the past month and what is planned for the month ahead.  This can all be on one page, so it does not need to become a time-consuming job.

Depending upon the level of complexity of a project or how important it is to the strategic objectives of a service, it may be appropriate to hold regular check-ins using a more formal project meeting. Such meetings need to be purposeful and supportive, rather than feeling like a performance review.  The aim of the meeting should be to present and discuss the progress of the project, celebrate successes and to explore ways to overcome barriers to improvement or any challenges that the project team are facing.  Further information about running such a meeting is included at the end of this article.

The more informal ‘project chat’ can also be very helpful and encouraging for teams; sponsors who show interest in QI activities when out and about or meeting with a team, often referred to as ‘walking the walk’, can help to reassure a project team that their improvement work really matters.

Running a project meeting

The purpose of project meetings are to…

  1. Talk about what is going well and what challenges are emerging. Projects often encounter significant barriers within the organisation, and it’s important for senior leaders doing the review to understand how they can help the team reach its goals.
  2. Discuss learning their improvement projects – you may ask “what learning is emerging from your plan, do, study, act (PDSA) cycles?” and discuss ideas for next tests of change
  3. Observe data collected in line with the projects measurement plan – you may ask “do you have any measures? What are they telling you?”
  4. Ask the team how they are feeling about change
  5. Ask the team if they have other ideas for improvement
  6. Provide guidance, support, energy and stimulation for the project team's improvement effort.