Entrepreneur Middle East's Achieving Women 2021: Grace Najjar, Managing Director - MENA Chapter, Project Management Institute
"It is important to be the enabler of success and excellence, rather than to focus on a sales approach."
This article is a part of the 2021 installment of Entrepreneur Middle East's annual Achieving Women series, in which we profile female leaders of note in the MENA region. The full series can be seen in our October 2021 issue here.
The unparalleled transformation of the MENA region over the past few decades, with complex mega projects becoming a reality at an unprecedented rate, has rendered the project management profession more relevant here than in other parts of the world. Grace Najjar, Managing Director for the MENA Chapter at Project Management Institute (PMI), one of the world’s largest professional project management associations with members in 208 countries, explains that delivering excellence at speed has been the only acceptable standard for helping MENA countries become oil-independent and digitally transformed.
Najjar has dedicated 26 years of her career to advancing the project management profession, educating the region’s talent in business and engineering, and actively contributing to the UAE’s vision of becoming one of the most advanced countries in the world. Today, Najjar is focused on the UAE’s 2021 vision for fast upskilling and reskilling talent, and by being PMI’s Energy Lead, she also runs educational initiatives in the construction management field, advising clients such as Saudi Aramco, Saudi Telecom Company, Emaar, and Dubai’s Road and Transport Authority. Her outreach also includes the Department of Innovation and Strategy at UAE’s Prime Minister’s Office, the UAE’s Ministry of Cabinet Affairs and Future, as well as the Federal Authority for Government Human Resources, to name but a few.
According to Najjar, there’s a skills gap between the demand for project management skills and the availability of talent, not only in the MENA region, but globally. “The global economy needs 25 million new project professionals by 2030, and to close this talent gap, 2.3 million people will need to enter project managementoriented employment per year just to keep up with the demand,” she says. “By being the go-to source for innovation in upskilling and reskilling, and building the power skills and skills of tomorrow, PMI is helping to close this talent gap.” To further explain her focus on educating the next generation, Najjar mentions that, in the MENA region alone, the annual demand for project managers is estimated to reach 2.6 million by 2030. “Talent is considered the fuel of tomorrow, and it’s the main asset in the MENA region, which has a ravenous appetite for learning with strong K-12 levels,” she says. “As the modern business landscape continues to evolve, growing ever more complex and presenting us with new and unprecedented challenges, innovation in educational reform is needed to keep pace.”
Najjar advises replacing traditional, lecture-based approaches with more interactive, interdisciplinary methods based on collaboration, experience, and a combination of courses. “It is crucial that we train tomorrow’s talent adequately, and prepare them for life in the real world, a world that is becoming more and more uncertain,” she explains. “The interdisciplinary, reskilling programs, especially for business leaders, are key to unlocking full potential.” When it comes to the top skills of the future, Najjar lists critical thinking and decision making, leadership and management, and advanced data analysis, while also noting that project management is among the top 10 skills listed in McKinsey’s 2020 survey on talent gaps.
Source: Project Management Institute
“When we at PMI talk about the power skills, we mean acquiring an innovative mindset to give one the ability to create and embrace new ideas and ways of working,” she says. “It means collaborative leadership to gain the ability to lead through inspiration and persuasion, rather than simply issuing orders. Also, it means having empathy for the voice of the customer in order to be capable to truly listen and better address their pain points.” Responding to market needs has never been more important than during the COVID-19 pandemic, when Najjar led PMI’s rapid shift to providing education online. “Speed is the new benchmark, and organizations that are too slow will be left behind,” she says. “Our goal has been to prepare organizations and individuals at every stage of their career journeys so they can deliver fast results and drive success in a rapidly changing world.”
PMI’s Organizational Transformation e-learning course is an example of the organization’s thought leadership in the field, Najjar adds. Another offering is PMI’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiative, which maintains a global culture that recognizes the contributions and interests of all PMI’s employees. When asked about the major partnerships that PMI has inked with leading players in the region’s business arena, Najjar explains that such ties cannot be forged without trust and a thorough understanding the pain points and needs of one’s partners.
“It is important to be the enabler of success and excellence, rather than to focus on a sales approach,” Najjar explains. “At PMI, our community is at the heart, and we put them first and foremost. We understand the culture, and ensure that we work toward the goals and visions of our partners. And lastly, PMI has become a trusted thought leader in the region, because of its one-team spirit, where we stay committed to our supportive role, under any circumstances.”
From a personal perspective, Najjar says that she has built her career with courage as a cornerstone. “I have taken leaps of faith knowing that I will find my way eventually,” Najjar says. “You do not need to know everything to make things happen. Courage, a doer attitude, and entrepreneurial spirit are essential. We only lose if we don’t try. This is what confidence means to me.”
THE EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Grace Najjar’s tips for women in business
1. Keep your eyes on the prize. "Stay focused on your path, stay determined, avoid any disruptions, and remain pragmatic and committed to your life goals. Be outcome-driven. You will see that in the long term, these will help you reap satisfactory results."
2. Keep learning. "The best investment is in self-learning. Stay humble and modest with all the knowledge you have. And be flexible in adapting to new methods and mindsets to ensure you are best-placed to navigate future challenges."
3, Embrace your innate qualities. "For example, many women excel at emotional intelligence, empathy, resilience, and strength. Build upon your inner peace, honesty, and transparency. These are strong qualities that will help make you more successful in business."
Tamara Pupic is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Middle East.