Focus: Project Management

Demand for project managers to surge: PMI

Breen speaking at the Dubai International Project Management Forum (DIPMF).

The Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region presents significant opportunities for project management professionals due to its rapid economic growth and megaprojects. Hence, demand for these professionals is expected to rise in the region, with a projected 80,000 job openings by 2030, according to a top official of Project Management Institute (PMI).

“As this project economy continues to evolve and contribute to the development of increasingly innovative businesses, industries and communities, project practitioners and professionals are now taking on even more important roles in helping to shape life, work and the region as we know it,” Benjamin Breen, Global Director Construction and Interim Regional Managing Director, Mena for the not-for-profit professional membership association for project and programme managers, tells Gulf Construction.

Project management professionals are needed across various sectors, including manufacturing, construction, finance, and information technology. However, there is a shortage of professionals who understand both project management and disruptive trends like sustainability and artificial intelligence (AI), Breen states.

He points out that project managers need to go beyond traditional boundaries and develop skills like collaboration, communication, and strategic thinking to thrive in the future.

Breen, Global Director Construction and Interim Regional Managing Director, Mena

Breen, Global Director Construction and Interim Regional Managing Director, Mena

According to Breen, the future of project management is bright. Emerging technologies like AI, building information modelling (BIM) and machine learning (ML) are transforming the construction industry and offer significant opportunities for project managers, who are already using AI primarily for reporting, decision support and communication, among other reasons. And with sustainability becoming increasingly important, project managers will need to integrate green practices into their projects.

“I am excited about the future of the project management profession as project managers are a vital part of the development agenda,” he concludes.

Excerpts of the exclusive interview:


PMI has a significant presence in the Mena region. What unique challenges and opportunities do you see in this market for project management professionals?

The Mena region’s leading countries, such as the UAE, have been capturing the attention of the world with their unprecedented growth rate driven by national visions, and ambitious megaprojects aimed at diversifying their economy.

As this project economy continues to evolve and contribute to the development of increasingly innovative businesses, industries and communities, project practitioners and professionals are now taking on even more important roles in helping to shape life, work and the region as we know it.

According to the Global Project Management Job Trends 2023 report, the demand for project management professionals is expected to continue to grow, despite disruption and uncertainty. In the Middle East specifically, the report predicts a strong demand for project management professionals.

The annual Project Management-Oriented Employment (PMOE) growth in Projectized Industries in Mena is expected to rise approximately 40 per cent and reach 2.6 million by 2030. This means around 80,000 new PMOE openings is projected until then. It is no wonder then that the project management profession is considered as one of nine “important and growing” skills for the future, according to McKinsey.

Opportunities for project management professionals are found in manufacturing and construction; finance and insurance; information and publishing; management and professional services. Growth in all these sectors is leading to greater demand for project management skills – and qualified people to fill them.

However, these sectors are rapidly being affected by the disruptive trends such as sustainability and AI. There is a shortage of skilled project professionals who understand both project management and the ability to integrate sustainability practices and AI technologies.

PMI has been playing a significant role in the region to positively impact project success by empowering national professionals with adequate skills, best-in-class certifications, and project management practices to fill this talent gap. It offers life-long learning and connections to sharpen high-demand skills and provides professionals at every stage of their career journey with the globally recognised standards, online courses, thought leadership, events, and tools they need to succeed.


How can project managers transcend traditional boundaries and foster collaboration to drive innovation, sustainability, and global connectivity?

Today, project professionals must aim to be recognised as strategy drivers. Those who transcend traditional project management, which primarily centres on project delivery, and go beyond their domain of expertise to learn and understand other aspects of the business, will become catalysts for change, innovation, and value creation.

Adding and delivering value is critical in today’s rapidly evolving business landscape in the Mena region. According to the 2023 PMI Annual Global Survey on Project Management, two-thirds of companies are engaged in digital transformation efforts. They’re also prioritising shifts in organisational strategy (36 per cent), adoption of new technology (34 per cent) and expansion into new markets (32 per cent).

Therefore, companies need future-focused project teams and project professionals who master new ways of working like increased usage of tech-enhanced problem-solving tools, integration of AI technologies, and the application of ESG frameworks into the project lifecycle to drive these changes.

Implementing agile project management methodologies and having a proactive approach to risk management allows for adaptability and the ability to successfully navigate the volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) environment.

Furthermore, project managers can go beyond boundaries when they own what we, at PMI, call the ‘Power Skills’ – collaborative leadership, communication, problem-solving and strategic thinking – which are the four highest-ranked power skills. By enhancing these skills, they foster successful collaboration among diverse international team members and stakeholders.

Those who go beyond boundaries, continuously develop their capabilities, by joining leading organisations, such as PMI, to network, find mentors, and learn from peers who are successfully tackling today’s challenges.


How can project management contribute to addressing global challenges like climate change and sustainability?

Sustainable project management requires looking at projects in a whole new way.

In much the same way that a project manager must balance cost, schedule, and scope, there are tradeoffs that must be made between the economic, social, and environmental factors surrounding a project. They are, after all, accountable for any long-term impacts of their projects.

One of the ways that we are seeing sustainability being taken seriously is with the help of the ESG framework which provide measurable implementation of sustainable solutions that project managers can use to ensure initiatives are focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, developing renewable energy sources, improving energy efficiency, and implementing sustainable practices.

It is, therefore, critical that project professionals integrate sustainability into the project lifecycle; from project planning to execution, not just to ensure its environmental impact, but also how it will contribute to true social impact and governance. When an organisation incorporates sustainability practices into its processes, it takes responsibility for the impact of its activities on customers, employees, shareholders, communities, and the environment through all aspects of operations.

Today, the term sustainable or green project manager is applied to project professionals who use appropriate sustainable methods, tools, and techniques while managing and delivering on the objectives of the project and contributing to the organisational goals.

Sustainable project managers have an important role to play in executing the projects that will create a better world for all.

At PMI, we have launched our ESG Resource Hub with specific reports for project managers to learn more about sustainability in project management and how to measure sustainable KPIs within their projects.


How can project managers in the construction sector integrate sustainable practices into their projects without compromising on cost and timelines?

One of the major disruptive trends that is impacting the construction industry is the successful implementation of sustainability which is needed now more than ever because of the current climate crisis.  This focus on sustainability is changing the types of projects that are being implemented within the region.

The most iconic and complex structures ever conceived are being delivered in Mena - with responsibility to protect, enhance, and restore their natural and social systems, by focusing on the importance of the future of more sustainable and resilient urban developments for every resident.

Many construction projects in the Middle East are adopting green building certifications, such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and Estidama, which are becoming increasingly important for project managers in the field. PMI has developed The Construction Professional in Built Environment Projects (PMI-CP) to help project professionals build a more sustainable future.

Sustainability considerations are being integrated into existing project management methodologies such as the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), to ensure that sustainability is considered throughout the project lifecycle. PMI’s ESG resource hub is a valuable tool in ensuring environmentally responsible project execution.

Lean construction principles are gaining traction in the construction sector, promoting efficiency and waste reduction. Value stream mapping helps project managers make targeted improvements to streamline workflow and enhance overall project efficiency by optimising resource utilisation, reducing project delays and improving quality.

The use of modular construction, 3D printing, AI, implementing smart building technologies and renewable energy sources are compelling project managers to explore innovative solutions to reduce the environmental impact of building projects.

Construction companies are adopting waste management plans that include recycling materials, reusing construction waste, and reducing overall waste generation, and are increasingly implementing water-efficient technologies such as rainwater harvesting, and efficient irrigation systems to minimise water consumption.

Advanced construction management software is providing innovative solutions to manage complex construction projects with enhanced efficiency and precision. Eco-friendly and locally sourced materials are becoming more common in construction projects. This reduces the carbon footprint associated with transportation and supports the use of materials that have a lower environmental impact. Efficient, cost-effective, safe and reliable transportation is being designed.

Green financing is being considered when seeking huge investments in the construction sector.


What are your thoughts on the use of AI and machine learning in project management?

AI and machine learning are revolutionising every industry and profession including the project management profession. PMI is developing the tools, resources, and learning opportunities – including the recently launched free, introductory online course entitled “Generative AI Overview for Project Managers”.

 Project managers can leverage AI for project productivity and enhance power skills. According to the 2023 PMI Annual Global Survey on Project Management, the top three ways project managers use AI are reporting (34 per cent), decision support (33 per cent), and communication (26 per cent). While AI can take on productivity tasks like planning and budgeting, project managers are also using AI as a tool to sharpen specific power skills, so their human interactions and strategic decisions are stronger.

AI adoption will only increase, so project managers need to upskill quickly to take advantage of this enormous career opportunity. The 2023 PMI Annual Global Survey on Project Management found that 82 per cent of senior leaders said AI will have, at least, some impact on how projects are run at their organisation over the next five years. However, unpublished PMI Customer Experience (CX) research found that only 18 per cent of project managers report having extensive or good practical experience with AI tools and technologies, and 49 per cent have little to no experience with or understanding of AI in the context of project management. 

Building organisational resilience, leveraging technical skills and upskilling teams will help organisations remain competitive. While technical skills are an important part of widespread AI adoption, it is just one piece of the puzzle. For AI to work, organisations need resilience and must have a clear vision, a flexible mindset, and empowered teams to foster widespread collaboration1


What emerging technologies do you see having the greatest impact on the construction industry in the coming years?

The construction industry in Mena is currently going through transformation attributable to the rise of ambitious megaprojects that require state-of-the-art emerging technologies.  AI is greatly impacting the construction industry.  It is even nearly impossible to keep pace with the rising rate of investments within this industry2.

During my session ‘Future Trends in Project Management: Successfully Dealing with AI-driven Disruption’ at the Dubai International Project Management Forum’s (DIPMF) 9th edition, I talked about AI's impact across industries and within the project management profession, and how important it is to support leaders for project success during this transformation.

Every stage of engineering and construction, from design, preconstruction, construction, and operations through asset management, is being reshaped by AI and machine learning. Project professionals who are embracing AI technologies with their planning, designing, building, running, and maintaining infrastructure are improving the projects’ efficiency, safety, and quality.

By integrating machine learning algorithms into software used for project managers, data analysis and decision making are being facilitated, enabling managers to gain a better understanding of the construction project and formalising tactic knowledge that has been gathered from previously known data and project experiences.

Project management methodologies are now applying AI to help solve the most challenging difficulties in the construction industry, such as integrating disparate pieces of data from subcontractors, contractors, designers, clients, and other parties and presenting it to users cohesively.

Because of this, human productivity is enhancing by 40 per cent as project management tasks such as scheduling, estimating, billing, and reporting are now automated, allowing project managers to focus on strategic thinking and advise on business strategies. In other words, AI can augment our capabilities to let us focus on what matters.

For the purpose of construction-site monitoring, AI is significantly contributing to evaluating enormous amounts of data from many sources, such as sensors, drones, cameras, and documents, to deliver insights and decision-making recommendations. It is helping project managers visualise project progress, identify potential dangers, and optimise budgets and schedules.  Incorporating data integration and visual analytics provides real-time data monitoring, transformation, and delivery.

Digital twins, 3D models, and BIM platforms are now enhancing collaboration and communication among stakeholders. This digitalisation in the construction industry is allowing the optimisation of materials and resources, including labour, water, energy, and equipment, by controlling supply, forecasting demand, and removing waste. BIM provides a platform for not only gathering vast volumes of data for the whole lifecycle of a project, but also for sharing, exchanging, and analysing data in real-time to enable in-time communication and cooperation among a range of parties.

Challenges are sometimes faced in integrating these emerging technologies such as obtaining accurate and comprehensive project data, since the effectiveness of AI relies on the quality and availability of data. Furthermore, there is a shortage of skilled project professionals who understand both project management and the ability to integrate AI technologies. To conquer the hurdles of technology adoption, thorough training is crucial, along with the ability to address and overcome any reluctance to change.

In addition, the cost of implementing AI and blockchain technologies is a challenge and may require a significant upfront investment in technology, training, and infrastructure. There are also security concerns as both AI and blockchain systems need robust security measures to protect sensitive project data and prevent unauthorised access or tampering.

The Mena region has been establishing a robust regulatory framework around blockchain. Some of the challenges occur when integrating blockchain into existing systems which may disrupt established workflows. A seamless integration of AI and blockchain systems with existing project management tools and processes is crucial for their success.


As a seasoned project management professional with extensive experience in Asia Pacific, what are some of the valuable lessons you've learned that you can share with aspiring project managers? 

Throughout my extensive experience as a project management professional in the Asia Pacific region, I've learned valuable lessons that I believe can guide aspiring project managers. First is the importance of cultural sensitivity. The Asia-Pacific region boasts diverse work cultures, and understanding and respecting these nuances are critical. Another important lesson is effective communication, emphasising the need for clear and open channels to facilitate seamless flow of information and making sure that your message is heard. Adaptability is paramount in a region characterised by rapid changes, requiring project managers to embrace flexibility in their approaches. Building strong relationships with team members, stakeholders, and local partners has proven to be indispensable, fostering trust and collaboration. Additionally, leveraging local expertise and embracing technology for virtual collaboration are essential strategies for success in this dynamic environment.


What are your predictions for the future of the profession? What exciting developments do you foresee on the horizon?

I am excited about the future of the project management profession as project managers are a vital part of the development agenda. As I recently shared at the DIPMF, the integration of advanced technologies, including AI, machine learning, automation, and data analytics, will revolutionise project management processes, enhancing efficiency and decision-making. Soft skills such as leadership and effective communication remain increasingly crucial alongside technical competencies. The rise of remote work will persist, necessitating innovative solutions for virtual collaboration and team engagement. As demonstrated at the recent COP28 meeting in Dubai, sustainability is a key focus, with project managers playing an increasingly central role in ensuring alignment with environmental and social responsibility goals. Agile methodologies and hybrid approaches offer flexibility to meet evolving project needs. Lifelong learning and credentials such as the Project Management Professional (PMP) will be imperative, positioning project managers to stay abreast of industry trends and emerging technologies for sustained success in an ever-evolving landscape.


Anything else you would like to add about the PMI and/or the DIPMF?

Being the most prestigious international forum in the Mena region on all matters related to project management, it is no wonder that Project Management Institute (PMI), being the leading authority in project management, has been the organising partners of the Dubai International Project Management Forum, for nine consecutive years. 


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2. AI could contribute up to $4.4 trillion annually to the global economy, according to McKinsey and is projected to reach within the construction industry $27.27 billion by 2031 during the forecast period 2023-2031 according to Straits Research.


* Benjamin Breen is the Global Director Construction and Interim Regional Managing Director, MENA at PMI.