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The Line Manager of the PMO Manager

We asked the PMO community a question which came up during the creation of the House of PMO qualifications – specifically it was this:

Is the PMO Sponsor or Champion (the person backing the instigation of the PMO) automatically the line manager of the PMO Manager/Director?

It’s an interesting one which when you stop and think about it for a moment – it’s not a question that has really been asked and discussed much before.
Posing the question provoked a good discussion and generated plenty of insights, and in this article we share those with you.

The C-Suite

It makes sense (and something which should be the ideal when it comes to PMOs) that the sponsor or champion is someone at the highest level in the organisation.
For example, “It could be a CIO with the budget, then have a Director/Head of Delivery for Delivery, and the PMO lead reports into them.” As a CIO if I’m not getting what I want, then the accountability lies with CIO but the day to day performance /line management would fall on the Director/Head of Delivery. That said, I’d expect in this day and age, the PMO lead would still have regular contact with CIO although they wouldn’t line manage them.”

I guess I have lucked out in the last three organisations I have implemented enterprise Portfolio Management & Change Delivery Teams. Great engagement and buy in from the Exec Teams; I did spend a least 4-6m on the hearts and minds piece prior to launching though, and showing incremental improvement as we rolled out the new ways of working!

“In financial services typically the change function reports into the COO (sometimes via the CIO/CTO) however from my experience they have rarely championed the PMO (perhaps because they have the most to lose from good governance/insights 😂). The potential of the PMO has largely been encouraged by the CFO or CEO….where I have seen it work well is when the PMO reports into a Chief Transformation officer or Chief Strategy Officer who sit on the ExCo.”
“Ideally I’d want the CEO as sponsor and the COO as line manager – the more support you can get the better. In reality the person might be the same”

“In my experience the PMO sponsor is always the chief exec. Given the purpose and remit of a PMO I can’t see it succeeding any other way. That level of buy in and support is crucial. The line management of the PMO could then therefore fall to the CEO (I’ve seen this happen), the COO, or any other person responsible for strategic change and transformation. Never the less, with CEO buy in and active support, it’s almost irrelevant who the line management sits with, though it would be good to have a person who is interested and wants to see it progress.”

Having members of the C-suite who actually understand PMOs and what they can do which makes a real difference to the organisation is the ideal situation, however:

“Too many executives – and too many PMOs – don’t realise the value of a good PMO. Too many times the PMO is a dumped-on ground for meeting bookings, administrative “support”, and miscellany. This is absolutely not the way to use a PMO (of any variety of “P”)”
Yet, “The PMO sponsor or champion does not need to be the immediate line manager for the organisation. However research has shown that the higher position the sponsor or champion holds the greater the PMO has of survival and success and this is further enhanced if the PMO does report to directly to them.

“If this is the case then there is justification that PMOs should ideally be sponsored by the CEO or a senior VP and report to them, which gives PMOs an immediate, greater authority, which if ran correctly, gives greater success. This is usually only seen in a project and not operational orientated organisation. My own research showed that without such support, as the PMO increases in maturity the more perceptible it is to influences within the parent organisation that may cause its demise.”
So it makes sense that the PMO champion / sponsor understands PMO and the value it will bring to the organisation.


If the sponsor of the PMO isn’t the CEO then there is something wrong.
PMO should be the strategic advisory and oversight on delivering the required change outcomes need to achieve the business’s strategic imperatives. Which ultimately the CEO and board are accountable for.
In large enterprises there might need to be layers but then it should be the functional, product or customer owning business heads…should still have an overarching ePMO aligned to the CEO office.
However the CEO is not right to line manage and thus needs another of the C-suite best quipped to do it.

“Overall I would not want to run a PMO unless the sponsor of the function was in my management line!”

Delegated Day-to-Day Management


It’s entirely conceivable that the CEO of a large organisation might be the one to sponsor the instigation of a PMO, and then be far too high up the chain to put the line management in directly.
“Many times I’ve worked with senior execs who have recognised the need for a PMO and do the job of gaining support from the Board, securing the resources etc; they may even then drive the PMO implementation as Sponsor but then, part of that implementation is to identify/appoint/hire the person that will permanently head it up.”
And the person who does become appointed? Well, that’s all down to the type of P it is.

It Depends on the P


“Doesn’t it depend on the P in PMO? if the P is Project or Programme, then no as this probably means it is a matrix model. If the P is Portfolio then probably yes and it is more likely to be an organisational model.
However as other commentators have mentioned, regardless of who it is they are by their nature more senior. If they really are the champion they need to understand what they are getting, which sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t.

I did work for a senior manager who didn’t understand what I did day to day, but still saw the value in what I did (either I made them look good or at least better than their peers), so don’t expect your ‘promoter’ to understand who you are or what you do, but they can still be your best advocate.

“I would say it the depends on the type of PMO. supportive, controlling or directive will be the guidelines on who is the PMO line manager.”
“I think that a lot would depend on size and complexity of the organisation. Where I work PMO is a recognised need and we have many varieties all with the common thread of being funded and championed from the top or very near that in each of the Divisions, Each has its own accountability and that differs by divisional need. Some are portfolio and others programme MOs. Some are 1/2 professional experts providing consulting and leading, others are underpinning a relatively large 3PM delivery organisation. The PMO lead and their accountability differs accordingly.”

However, EPMO’s may have different considerations. The CEO may champion it, but often delegates reporting to the CFO or CSO, simply because he/she doesn’t want the admin burden of additional direct reports.
If an IT PMO isn’t reporting to the CIO, then I would want to know why.

“Surely this is a matter of organisation design – what is the business support role a PMO is needed to play for which parts of the organisation? Is it an instrument of business integrated governance or a tactical, local, parochial admin tool? Do we see PMO springing up out of bottom up justifications or built into how the organisation functions top down?”

Is it Someone Else?


Just as with a good programme structure – the Sponsor is not always the functional head of the function where the change is being delivered. The Sponsor of the PMO needs to be the person who is in the best position in the business to champion the PMO and develop a perception of value. They need credibility and strong relationships across the exec team and they need to have a passion for directing and steering the PMO to enable valuable outcomes for the business rather than a set of mechanics, tools and processes that don’t really deliver value……for whatever reason.

Here’s our question again,
Is the PMO Sponsor or Champion (the person backing the instigation of the PMO) automatically the line manager of the PMO Manager/Director?
“I would have to say no as I think the sponsor/champion should be in an independent business area different to the one that the PMO resides in. The sponsor/champion may well promote and deliver the message to the wider business on behalf of the PMO as to the services available. They may well have been instrumental in the set of a PMO but I feel that the PMO should be independently managed and provide a list of services by agreement which the sponsor/champion may also be a receiver of. If the sponsor or champion line manages the PMO it blurs the neutrality of PMO.



Not always.  The more strategic the PMO is, the less it’s about ‘line managing’ and more about dotted lines and key stakeholder relationships.
A corporate PMO, that looks across projects and functions, should be independent (to a large degree) to be most effective and leverage best value.
Some of my most rewarding experiences have involved accountability lines into CEO, CFO or Board level, and dotted lines elsewhere (Prog Managers etc).
As always, many ways can work (or not).

Here’s a real example of it being someone else other than the sponsor, “When I established and managed a CMO (Change Management Office rather than Project/Programme) my sponsor was our most senior exec who reported into the Chief Exec. She wasn’t my line manager but had an impressive vision and gave me the support to drive the implementation of the Change & Project Framework, prioritisation of the projects and was an amazing leader.”

In some cases the PMO Sponsor/Champion would be the line manager of the PMO Manager. It certainly has been the case in my experience.
However, there are many variables in this equation, e.g. organisational size, corporate culture, type of PMO implemented, seniority and authority of the Sponsor/Champion, etc.
In big organisations with many layers of management it is unlikely

“A PMO definitely needs a champion at director level but it’s not a good use of their time if they act as line manager. Directors usually delegate and act as a figurehead. Usually directors are also thinking strategies not operational day to day. I’ve found at my organisation directors had neither time nor inclination.”

And a final counter again – to swing it back to the sponsor, “Trying to break this down…. so the Person Paying for the PMO (sponsor/champion) out of their own budget, would hand off the line management/accountability to another person? Why would they pay for it then hand off the performance to someone else? Doesn’t make sense. Unless that other person also reported into the Sponsor/Champion.”


Introducing Bias

There was a previous point made, “If the sponsor or champion line manages the PMO it blurs the neutrality of PMO.”
 Does having a member of the senior leadership as the sponsor of the PMO ultimately create bias as to what kind of PMO is set up?

Here’s a couple of thoughts:

On the one hand it’s a good accountability chain, but on the other it may impose a whole number of biases. I’m probably on the side of “not”, but only just!

The role of the sponsor or champion will likely influence the character and focus of the PMO, a CFO will likely raise the importance of financial and risk, COO will likely raise the change management aspects while a CTO will likely push the tech angles. This raises the question of whether there should be a Chief Change Officer on the Board but that is another discussion. Overall an organisation tends to get the PMO it can afford and will live with.
My best manager when I ran a corporate PMO once said that if everyone liked everything I was doing then I was not doing my job to advance the planning, execution and integration of change!!!”


Does it Matter?

“PMO is a career path like any other. To function well there needs to be clarity on the problem / opportunity statement, the outcomes it is expected to deliver and how they will be measured. The sponsor is there to champion this and providing they are ready, willing and able to do so and drive the removal of blockers, does it matter where the sponsor/champion sits in the organisation?”
“Presumably the PMO Sponsor/Champion is the person accountable for the benefits from the instigation of the PMO. As the PMO is the tool for delivering those benefits, the PMO Manager/Director needs to be accountable to the Sponsor. Whether that’s as a direct line report or through the designated governance structure does it make a difference?”
And a final point;
“I wonder if it matters? Two observations. 1. That the Sponsor needs to be someone who can fulfill the role. 2. A PMO sits in an organisational context, which ideally, but rarely helps projects to thrive. A PMO sponsor needs to be a person that can create or help build a supportive organisation.”

Further Questions

As ever with a discussion and debate on PMOs, further questions are raised.
You can get involved by leaving a comment on any of the insights shared – or take a look at what is also on our PMO practitioner’s minds:

  • Is there a difference between a PMO Sponsor, a PMO Champion and a PMO Director?
  • It’s an interesting scenario where the PMO Sponsor, holder of the PMO Vision, defines the role of a department over which they only have interest and influence. Where does that leave the line manager of the PMO Manager/ PMO Director in defining what and how the PMO delivers/ performs?
  • Would a PMO Manager/ Director prefer a PMO Champion who is seen to support/ validate their proposals/role? Does that mean the vision doesn’t belong to the PMO Sponsor, but the PMO Manager/ PMO Director?
  • Why does the PMO so rarely get the sponsorship it needs and deserves?
  • An organisation with a true P3O has multiple PMOs across the organisation in an ‘intelligent holistic design’.Is it just the P3O that needs a Sponsor, or each individual PMO?
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