A decade after Tunisia’s political revolution, Bilel Manai keeps pushing for evolution.
But ongoing transformation takes more than sheer will—which Manai proved immediately after joining Al Bawsala, a nongovernmental organization with three main objectives: reposition citizens at the core of political action; build relationships with elected representatives and decision makers to help establish good governance and ethics; and defend social progress and citizen empowerment.
When Manai came on board in 2017, he took over a project on the verge of failure. Launched three years earlier, the Marsad Baladia initiative was designed to deliver a web platform that would collect and publish data from local governments across the country in an effort to improve transparency. But the team was in trouble—there was high turnover and lots of missed deadlines.
By focusing priorities and rolling out more strategic processes, Manai staged a dramatic turnaround. Key stakeholders, including board members, the CEO and sponsors, were so impressed that they approved funding in January 2020 to expand the work over the next four years.
How did he pull it off? “Adopting a servant leadership style within the organization is essential,” Manai says. “Especially when working with teams that are engaged for societal and political reasons.”
Q&A: Bilel Manai on Tesla, the end of bureaucratic leadership and Barack Obama
What project has most influenced you personally?
I’m always admiring Tesla’s projects. There’s a high level of innovation and creativity for design and technology, and there’s a strong vision behind all its projects, which makes it possible to challenge global giants in the automotive and energy sectors. Tesla’s projects also add sustainable value and counter global warming.
What’s the one must-have skill to succeed in The Project Economy?
Agility. When institutional frameworks are constantly and rapidly changing, you need the capability to make good decisions in the shortest time period.
What’s your philosophy for leading projects?
When working with people, always be aware of bias, whether it’s the halo effect or stereotyping people. I’m also driven by a continuous improvement process. This mindset allows me to always focus reaching greater outcomes and how to improve our ways of work.
What’s one way managing projects will have changed by 2030?
The bureaucratic project leadership style, which refuses to try something new, will totally disappear.
How are young people changing the world of projects?
Young people are very globally connected and are very intent on sharing their knowledge and feedback. They inspire each other and stimulate further creativity within their organizations.
What famous or historic person would you want on your project team?
Former U.S. president Barack Obama. His exceptional communication and persuasion skills would help drive our advocacy campaigns.