The ultimate goal of change management is to drive organizational results and outcomes by engaging employees and inspiring their adoption of a new way of working.

Whether it is a process, system, job role or organizational structure change (or all of the above), a project is only successful if individual employees change their daily behaviors and start doing their jobs in a new way. This is the essence of change management.

A whole system of people in the organization supports employees in making this transition. From the highest levels of leadership to front-line supervisors, managing change well relies on a coordination of actors all moving in unison and fulfilling unique roles. This article examines the core roles in change management:

  • Change practitioners
  • Sponsors
  • People managers
  • Project managers
  • People (impacted employees)

Prosci's Core Roles in Change Management Model


Core Role Descriptions

The table below illustrates what we would like to hear each of these groups say if they are actively engaged in managing change. Conversely, it also identifies what you may hear from each role if their responsibility is not clearly defined or understood (either by the player or by the organization).

How they should describe
their role:
How they could misunderstand
their role:

Change practitioners

"I, change practitioner, contribute to successful change outcomes through adoption and usage by preparing, equipping and supporting people with integrated strategies and plans."

“I feel like I’m on an island here. People expect me to do everything and have all the answers.”


"I, sponsor, contribute to successful change outcomes through adoption and usage by Actively and visibly participating throughout, Building coalitions, and Communicating directly."

“I gave you funding and signed the charter, now go make it happen!”

People managers

"I, people manager, contribute to successful change outcomes through adoption and usage by performing the roles of Communicator, Liaison, Advocate, Resistance Manager and Coach."

“I feel like I’m the direct target for some of these changes, and I wish I knew what was going on.”

Project managers

"I, project manager, contribute to successful change outcomes by designing with adoption and usage in mind and integrating with the people side."

“My focus is getting to go-live. Once I flip the switch, I’m moving on to the next project.”

People/impacted employees

"I, employee, contribute to successful change outcomes by engaging, adopting and using the change." 

"I'm just going to wait and see what happens. It seems like this change and its success are not my responsibility."


In addition to these ‘core’ roles, you may need additional or ‘extend’ roles to execute your change management plan (discussed later in more detail). Other roles to extend your support resources may include, but are not limited to:

  • Internal communication or training specialists
  • Human resources business partners
  • Organization development staff
  • Business analysts
  • Subject matter experts
  • Change agent networks
  • Solution developers

When you identify the extend roles needed in your organization and for your particular change initiatives, active engagement by these roles is important. Similar to the statements in the table above, they should understand and be able to describe their roles using the structure of the I/By statement: “I, ____ , contribute to successful change outcomes (through adoption and usage) by ____.” For example, “I, change agent network, contribute to adoption and usage by providing a voice for end users and sharing key messages in a timely manner.”

Employee-Facing vs. Enabling Roles

Of the core roles presented, two have direct contact with front-line employees impacted by the change while two of the roles do more of their work behind the scenes.

Employee-Facing Roles:

Sponsors and people managers are the two functions in the change management context that interact directly with individuals who need to change. To impacted employee groups, they are the visible actors on the change stage. They deliver communications, coach and support teams through their transitions, and represent the future state through:

  • One-to-one interactions
  • One-to-many interactions

Why are these two roles the only employee-facing roles in the change management ecosystem?
Because these are the people that employees want to hear from.

Prosci's Core Roles in Change Management Model:
Employee-Facing Roles


Enabling Roles:

Change practitioners and project managers facilitate change. These two roles in change management formulate and coordinate the plans that are executed by the employee-facing roles within the business. They are producers and directors who operate off-stage to make the production successful.

Why are these two roles typically not employee-facing in times of change?
Because employees don’t know who they are and
they are not preferred senders of messages.

Prosci’s Core Roles in Change Management Model:
Enabling Roles


Implications of Employee-Facing and Enabling Roles

This is one of the most important takeaways from the discussion about roles. Change management work must ultimately come to life through influencing and coordinating many different actors. For change practitioners who may be resourced from members of a project team, HR or OD consultants, or from within a specialized change management group, most of the work is carried out by others.

Change practitioners play the role of enablers. They create easy-to-implement plans and shape the success of the sponsors and people managers throughout the organization to implement them.

Why Each Role Matters

Change Practitioners

Why the dedicated change management resources are important:

  • A growing body of data shows a strong correlation between the success of a change initiative and how well the people side is managed. Change projects with excellent change management are six times more likely to meet objectives and outcomes.
  • Having dedicated resources for change management is one of the greatest contributors to success in Prosci’s Best Practices in Change Management - 11th Edition.
  • Dedicated change management resources provide focus and keep track of change management activities. They act as a point of responsibility and accountability. When budgets and schedules are squeezed, change management activities are easily pushed to the bottom of the priority list if there are not dedicated resources.

What the change PRACTITIONERS must do:

  1. Apply a structured change management methodology
    Instead of operating in an ad hoc manner, the dedicated change management resources approach change management with structure and intent (read more about Prosci's methodology).
  2. Formulate strategy
    They evaluate how big a change is and who will be impacted to develop a customized and scaled strategy for managing the people side of the initiative.
  3. Develop plans
    Based on the strategy work, the team creates a tailored set of plans for moving people forward, including a Communications Plan, Sponsor Roadmap, Coaching Plan, Training Plan and Resistance Management Plan. (read more about the five plans in Prosci's methodology).
  4. Support other roles
    The change management resources are the coaches and go-to people, responsible for enabling success with the other roles vital to change management.


Why Sponsors are important:

  • In the Best Practices in Change Management – 11th Edition, active and visible sponsorship was cited as the first contributor to change management success. In fact, the role of the sponsor has been the first contributor to success since Prosci began researching change management in 1998.
  • Employees want to see and hear the sponsor’s commitment to the change. The authority they provide carries over to other change management roles.
  • Effective sponsorship is a predictor of success or failure on the project.

What Sponsors must do:

  1. Actively and visibly participate throughout the project
    There are three key words here: active, visible and throughout. Sponsors must be present and seen by employees from start to finish.
  2. Build a coalition of sponsorship and manage resistance
    The sponsor coalition describes the group of leaders and influencers who will give the change credibility and priority back to their own departments, divisions, and workgroups. The primary sponsor must build and maintain a healthy sponsorship coalition.
  3. Communicate directly with employees
    Employees want to hear the business reasons for the change from someone at the top.

Read more about the role of sponsors.

People Managers

Why People Managers are important:

  • People managers are close to the action. It is their teams that must change how they do their jobs for the change to be successful. Managers are the preferred senders of change messages about the personal impact of a change on their team members.
  • In any organization, there are two types of change constantly happening: top-down initiatives launched by senior leaders (macro-changes), and responses to daily demands from customers and suppliers (micro-changes). People managers support their employees through both types of changes.
  • The attitude and actions of a manager will show up in their people, whether the attitude is one of support or one of opposition.

What People Managers must do:

The five roles of managers and supervisors during change are:

  1. Communicator
    Employees prefer to hear messages about how the change directly impacts them and their team from the person they report to.
  2. Liaison
    The role of liaison involves interacting with the project team, taking direction and providing feedback.
  3. Advocate
    If the manager opposes the change, chances are that their people will as well. In many cases, the opposite is also true. Making sure a people manager is on board with a change and advocating for it is the first step the change management team must take before expecting managers and supervisors to fulfill their roles in change
  4. Resistance manager
    Research shows that the best intervention to mitigate resistance comes from the employee's immediate supervisor.
  5. Coach
    Helping employees through their personal transitions is the essence of change coaching by middle managers and supervisors.

Read more about the role of people managers.

Project Managers

Why the project Manager is important:

  • The project manager is tasked with managing the technical side of the change. Their role focuses on how a solution is designed, developed and delivered.
  • Without direction and management, the technical side of the project will not move forward.
  • The project manager also plays a role in ensuring that change management is part of the project by providing the appropriate resources (budget and personnel) and time.
  • Change management will be most effective when it is pulled in at the launch of the project.

What the project Manager must do:

The roles of project managers during change include:

  1. Design the actual change
    The project manager creates the solution that ultimately impacts how people do their jobs.
  2. Manage the ‘technical side’
    With tools like the charter, business case, schedule, resources, work breakdown structure, budget, etc., the project manager moves the technical side of the change forward.
  3. Engage with the change practitioner
    By working with the change practitioner, the project manager ensures that the technical side and the people side of the change progress in unison.
  4. Integrate change management plans into the project plan
    By beginning change management at the start of the project and weaving the change management strategy and plans into the technical-side plans, the project manager creates one seamless project plan.

People/Impacted Employees

Why people/impacted employees are important:

The people within an organization that are impacted by change have a critical role to play. Without adoption and usage of the change, the probability of achieving the desired outcomes of the change is very low. This is particularly true when a large percentage of the project objectives or organizational benefits depends on adoption and usage of the change. Some plain language questions to prompt thoughtful impact on people
include the following:

  • Organizational change requires individual change – Who has to do their jobs differently (and how)?
  • Organizational change requires individual change – Who has to do their jobs differently (and how)?
  • Change management is an enabling framework for managing the people side of change – What will we do to support adoption and usage?

What the people/impacted employees must do:

  1. Engage
    Willingly support, or at a minimum, accept the change
  2. Adopt
    Take on the change as one’s own
  3. Use
    Apply the change as expected

Core Roles vs. Extend Roles

Each of the roles described above is considered a ‘core’ role. They need to exist for every project or change initiative. As mentioned earlier, your specific change might call for additional roles. Most roles predominately contribute to either designing, developing and delivering the solution, or engaging, adopting and using the solution.

These complementary functions ‘extend’ the execution of change management activities and help maintain strategic alignment into the broader organizational context.

What the extend roles might do:

  1. Incorporate their experience and expertise
    Extend roles bring experience on past changes that can be applied to the current change.
  2. Contribute knowledge
    Each of these groups has specialized knowledge that can help the project team and the change management resource or team.
  3. Offer tools
    Each of the areas brings specific tools that support change management activities. Support roles need to ensure their tools are applied in alignment with change management best practices.

Action Steps for Change Practitioners

1. Begin making a case for why it is important to manage the people side of change

You will have to make a compelling case for the value change management delivers and how it directly supports the work the person does. The case will need to be made to all of the other roles needed for change management:

  • Project teams
  • Senior leaders
  • Middle managers and supervisors

Be sure to answer “What’s in it for me?” and connect change management to what they care about, such as meeting financial objectives (for senior leaders) or delivering a project on time, on budget and on target to meet objectives (for project teams).

2. Provide knowledge, training, tools and coaching

For many of the different actors, applying change management is a new job requirement. You will need to help each of them build their personal competency for leading change. Whether it is a project team you are working with to integrate change management into the project plan, the division president you are asking to fulfill the role of sponsor, or a front-line supervisor you are asking to coach their direct reports, you need to be there to provide support and answer questions. You are now the coach for the agents of change throughout your organization.

3. Apply Change Management Principles to Your Engagement of Other Roles

The Prosci ADKAR® Model of individual change provides a framework for engaging players who need to fulfill the other roles in change management. The ADKAR Model describes the five key building blocks an individual needs to successfully make a change.

The model states simply that for someone to effectively engage in their role in change management, they need:

  • Awareness of the need for change management
  • Desire to participate and support the application of change management
  • Knowledge on how to manage change
  • Ability to implement the required skills and behaviors for their role in change management
  • Reinforcement to sustain change management

You cannot simply send someone to change management training or send them a memo and expect them to fulfill their role. They will first need awareness of why it is important and a desire to fulfill their role.

This conversation may sound very different for the CEO than it would for a front-line supervisor. Draw on best practices and research to demonstrate the specific actions you need and the biggest mistakes that are typically made by these groups. In the end, you must connect effectively managing change with what the individual cares about.

To Recap

A coordinated system of key roles work together to bring about change in an organization. Of the five roles, two are employee-facing because employees want to hear from them:

  • Sponsors
  • People managers

And two are enabling roles that orchestrate change activities behind the scenes:

  • Change practitioners
  • Project managers

Employees can successfully make their personal transitions when each of these actors fulfills their role in the context of a holistic, planned change management approach. And it is through the collective impact of successful individual transitions that the organization achieves its change objectives and realizes the enriched future state its strategic leaders envisioned.

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