Managing Innovation Champions: The Impact of Project Characteristics on the Direct Manager Role


  • *Donna Kelley wishes to acknowledge the financial support provided by the Babson College Faculty Research Fund. Hyunsuk Lee wishes to acknowledge the financial support provided by Seoul National University of Science and Technology- New Faculty Research Grant 2007.

Address correspondence to: Hyunsuk Lee, Department of Business Administration, Seoul National University of Technology, Seoul, Korea. Tel: +82-2-970-6421. Fax: +82-2-973-1249. E-mail:


A key challenge for organizations seeking to improve the management of innovation lies in determining when to lend direct managerial support, and how much support, to those championing such projects. This research provides insights into the connection between project characteristics and the type and frequency of direct manager involvement. As such, it addresses the following research question: how does the level of project innovativeness, strategic relatedness, and resource requirements impact the level of empowerment of innovation champions and the sponsor or supervisor role played by managers? The research method involves a survey of 89 project champions from four divisions of large, multinational Korean companies. The results show that when innovativeness was high but projects were strategically related, there was greater project champion empowerment but also a more frequent managerial sponsor role. This suggests it may be best to allow innovators, who are close to the project's markets, technologies, and industry conditions, to have greater freedom over objectives and decisions. Yet they may also need the advice and support of their managers to function optimally under the highly uncertain conditions that characterize innovative projects. This combination of empowerment and a sponsor role, though appropriate for highly innovative projects, may also require high strategic relatedness, however. On the other hand, when projects are less strategically related and when resource requirements are high, the analysis suggests managers are more likely to exert control. Managers may therefore need to become more closely involved in decision making for costly ventures representing new strategic directions for their organizations. Overall, this research suggests that both empowerment and manager roles are relevant to the management of innovation. These results offer academic value in recognizing the nature of the direct manager role under different innovation project conditions. It further reveals a need for academics to recognize both the supervisor and sponsor roles in the management of innovation. For managers, the findings suggest that for organizations to effectively develop and commercialize innovations managers need to recognize when certain projects call for different levels and types of involvement.