Please Share

How to Make a Great Impression: First Meeting with Your Project Sponsor

How to Make a Great Impression: First Meeting with Your Project Sponsor

Every Project Manager has to meet their Project Sponsor or client for the first time. And, given the importance of this relationship, it’s an important meeting. So, you’ll want to get it right.

In this article, let’s discuss:

  1. What Your Objectives should be for this First Meeting with Your Project Sponsor
  2. How to Prepare for Your First Meeting with Your Project Sponsor
  3. Your Priorities for that First Meeting with Your Project Sponsor
  4. What to Focus on During Your First Meeting with Your Project Sponsor
  5. How to Follow-up after First Meeting with Your Project Sponsor
How to Make a Great Impression: First Meeting with Your Project Sponsor

What Your Objectives should be for this First Meeting with Your Project Sponsor

I suggest you should have three very clear objectives for your first meeting with your Project Client or Project Sponsor. These are:

  1. Build a rapport between you – so that you can…
  2. Understand one another – as a basis for…
  3. Creating the basis for trust

So, the sequence is rapport, understanding, and trust. But the primary driver is trust, based on understanding, generated from rapport.

Building a Rapport with your Project Sponsor

You are going to have to work with your client or sponsor for an extended period. And, in that time, you’ll probably need to deliver and receive bad news, discuss and take tough decisions, and resolve thorny issues and tricky questions. I might argue that the Project Manager – Project Sponsor relationship is the heart of a project: delivering energy and power to the team and your stakeholders.

Take or leave this flowery metaphor as you chose. What’s important is that you start, as soon as you can, to build this relationship. And it’s an essential component of the processes of understanding one another and building a relationship of trust.

Creating a Mutual Understanding with Your Project Sponsor

You will need to understand your client or project sponsor, as a:

  • person
  • professional
  • manager
  • leader
  • organizational representative

What are their preferences, priorities, and aspirations? I’ll say more about the specific things you’ll want to learn, in the section on ‘Your Priorities for that First Meeting with Your Project Sponsor’.

But understanding goes both ways. You also want them to start to understand a little about you: who you are, your approach as a project professional, and what you can do to help them. Whilst it is important for you to learn to trust your project sponsor, it is vital that they learn to trust you.

Developing Trust between You and Your Project Sponsor

Trust is so important in the project environment, that I have made three videos for the OnlinePMCourses channel about it. I’ll list them in a moment and recommend you watch them.

But, the most important model for understanding trust in the professional environment is that developed by Maister, Galford, and Green, for their book, ‘The Trusted Advisor’. So, I have embedded a video I made for our sister channel, Management Courses, about this model. It’s called the Trust Equation.

The other videos I recommend you look at, to better understand trust in the Project Management environment, are:

How to Prepare for Your First Meeting with Your Project Sponsor

As with so many things, preparation for your first meeting with your Project Sponsor is key. Let’s look at the five essential areas of preparation. Since they are all essential, the order here is arbitrary!

Find out What You Can about the Project Sponsor

It’s a general principle of business that you should aim to avoid going into any meeting where you don’t know as much as reasonably possible about the people you are meeting with. And, with colleagues and the internet as your resources, there is really no excuse for not doing a little research up from. In this, LinkedIn is your best friend.

But what if they find out you’ve been looking them up? Somebody may ask me.

So what?, I say in reply.

  1. First, they should expect it
  2. Second, they’ll probably be flattered
  3. Third, what will they think if they suspect you weren’t interested enough, or didn’t take the meeting seriously enough, to research them?

Learn about the Unwritten Rules

These include cultural expectations, etiquette, and what they will consider to be appropriate business behavior. I’m not going to go all in here and talk about business dress and the need to be on time. But, if you want more, take a look at our Management Courses video, ‘First Impression – Appearance: How to Look the Part’.

Inform Yourself about the Project and its Context

This has two important drivers, beyond the obvious fact that knowing about the project is the professional thing to do:

First, it will prevent you from wasting important time asking questions that you could have – and should have – found answers to, before the meeting. And second, it will help you identify the important questions that only your client or sponsor will be able to properly answer.

So, do whatever you can to research:

  • The project
  • Its technology, processes, and history
  • The organization
  • Its culture, strategy, and competitive environment

Information Sharing

Consider what you need to know from them – and what they will want to know from you. Use this to develop an agenda that you can either share with your new client or sponsor, or use as a mental checklist during the meeting.

Decide how to Introduce Yourself

When your Project Sponsor or client asks you to ‘Tell me about yourself’, what will you say? What are the salient pieces of information you will want to convey? And how can you do it clearly and concisely, to leave a strong, positive impact? In many ways, this is just like the same question being asked at a job interview. So, you can usefully adapt the guidance I give on answering this very question at a job interview. So, take a look at my video: How to Answer the Question: Tell Me About Yourself.

Your Priorities for that First Meeting with Your Project Sponsor

Before we look at what to do during the meeting, let’s look at what you most need to take away from it. And I will divide this into Project, Process, and Expectations.

What You Need to Learn from Your Project Sponsor about The Project

There may be some strategic, political, or even technical questions you need to ask, that you think only your sponsor can answer. And you should certainly cover all of these where they are relevant. But here are a few tips about them, before we move on to the more ‘personal’ things you need to learn from your client or sponsor.

Strategic, Political, and Technical

  • Strategic
    This is the most appropriate thing to ask about. But be aware that they may consider some strategic matters to be confidential. Be clear with them that your motivation here is to understand as much as possible, to better equip you to deliver their project effectively and make wise decisions along the way. But be prepared to respect their choice not to share information with you – especially at this first meeting. Remember: you have not yet built up a high level of trust.
  • Political
    That last point will be especially pertinent when you ask about the political context and how to be effective in the political domain of your project. Here, a good tactic is to confide in your client or sponsor that you hope they will be able to help you navigate the politics astutely, as and when you need to.
  • Technical
    Few clients and project sponsors will want to focus on technical matters. So be careful here and only ask where either: you know they are interested in certain technical details, or where you believe you have no other route to access the information that you need.

Personal Professional

The most valuable things you can start to learn from your client or sponsor at this first meeting are their personal and professional:

  • Drivers and necessary outcomes or objectives
    What are non-negotiable priorities that you have to get right?
  • Hopes and aspirations for this project
    What do they hope the project will achieve for them, their teams, and their organization?
  • Priorities and preferences
    What things are more or less important to them?

What You Need to Find Out about Your Project Sponsor’s Way of Working

Beyond the sponsor or client’s knowledge and priorities, you also need to learn about how they like to work. Your goal is to find the best way to build an effective and productive working relationship, so you can serve them in the best way possible. Remember, you do not need to like one another (though, in my experience, this is a BIG help). But you do need to work well together.

In particular, how do they like to:

  • Communicate
  • Receive information and updates
  • Make decisions
  • Discuss issues and problems
  • Prepare for set-piece meetings

Learning about Your Project Sponsor’s Expectations of You and Your Shared Relationship

And all this leads naturally to what your sponsor expects of you and your relationship with them. How do they want you to behave, what do they want you to do, and when do they expect you to communicate in the various different ways?

If the two of you can evolve a way of working that you are both fully comfortable with, the trials and troubles of a complex project can seem far easier to handle.

What to Focus on During Your First Meeting with Your Project Sponsor

Once your meeting with your new client or Project Sponsor starts, there are four behaviors to focus on, so you can achieve your objectives for the meeting (Part 1 of this article) and learn what you need to (Part 3 of this article). These are:

  1. Rapport-building
  2. Listening
  3. Asking questions
  4. Contributing


Start the meeting with some simple small talk, to establish the start of a rapport. But be prepared to follow your client or sponsor’s lead on this. If they do not see the value and want to move quickly to business, then so be it. You will break rapport quickly if you create the impression that you are less willing than they are to get onto substantive matters.


Once you are onto substantive matters, your top priority is to listen. And also to show you are listening. Look them in the eye, nod and gesture appropriately, and make notes of the things they say. Avoid interrupting them. Record things that seem crucial verbatim, so you can play them back to your sponsor later.

Asking questions

Then, use questions to encourage your sponsor or client to tell you more. Usually, the more we are given the space to speak, and paid the courtesy of intense attention, the more we come to trust the other person. So, use questions and listening to both learn and build trust.


At some point, of course, it will be appropriate to contribute:

  • Information
  • Ideas
  • Opinions

Do so clearly and succinctly. I recommend you look at the video on Structured Response Formats, on our Management Courses channel.

How to Follow-up after First Meeting with Your Project Sponsor

I have a word that I invented: ‘postparation’. If you prepare ahead of an important meeting, why would you not postpare after it? And the three keys to good meeting postaration are:

  1. Reflecting, Learning, and making Notes
  2. Doing Everything You Committed to
  3. Follow-up on the Meeting

Reflecting, Learning, and making Notes

This one is for you. For your career and your long-term effectiveness in leading this project. After the meeting, take some time to write up your notes, impressions, and learning from the session. This is your chance to reflect on the experience and think about the ways you can benefit from what you’ve learned.

Doing Everything You Committed to

If you watched my video on the Trust Equation, you’ll know that one of the four components is ‘reliability’. This is the sense I have that you will do what you said you would. So, don’t blow it straight away by defaulting on the first set of commitments you made!

And don’t wait either. At the very minimum, do what you promised, when you promised. Better still, do it all ahead of time.

Follow-up on the Meeting

Finally, as a courtesy, follow up with a polite note. This should:

  • Thank your new client or Project Sponsor for their time and insights
  • Affirm the commitments you made
  • Set out your next steps, including the process for setting up the next meeting

What are Your Thoughts about a First Meeting with Your Project Sponsor or Client?

As always, I’d love to read your comments and will respond to every contribution.

About the Author Mike Clayton

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.

follow me on: