For preparing a community for a surge in religious tourism—without forsaking its past
“I decided to become a project manager because it’s an opportunity to make a difference,” says Mohammed Alsobhi. “We play a critical role in delivering successful projects that can have a positive impact on organizations and communities. This provides a strong sense of purpose and fulfillment.”
For Alsobhi, that sense of purpose currently comes from helping deliver one of Saudi Arabia’s most ambitious religious tourism megaprojects: leading the effort to overhaul the holy city of Madinah so it can accommodate more visitors to the world’s second-largest mosque, Al-Masjid an-Nabawi.
As senior project engineer for the Rua Al Madinah initiative, Alsobhi is helping deliver a state-of-the-art infrastructure package for the project’s nine superblocks, including new roads, potable and irrigation water supplies, power cables and substations, and an underground waste collection system.
The five-year initiative will lay the foundation for other projects, such as hotel construction that will add 47,000 rooms—stretching over 4.9 million square meters (52.7 million square feet).
“Saudi Arabia has limited hospitality capacity for visitors, but this project will increase that so Madinah can host 30 million pilgrims a year,” Alsobhi says. “The project’s impact on Madinah and the millions of pilgrims who visit it each year cannot be overstated.”
It’s also an opportunity for Alsobhi to flex his risk management prowess, as well as the engagement and collaborative leadership skills he’s sharpened throughout his career. The project site has been inhabited for more than 1,400 years, which means that surprises—and myriad stakeholders—await at each phase.
By respectfully communicating with government officials, religious leaders and local residents, Alsobhi has been able to smoothly navigate challenges. That’s included everything from relocating two cemeteries to making sure that excavators working with explosives in the rocky desert land minimized dust and noise pollution.
Ultimately, Alsobhi’s efforts are tied to the kingdom’s goal of attracting 100 million tourists annually as it looks to diversify its oil-centric economy. Progress is happening—and fast. Tourism in Saudi Arabia surged from 15 million annually in 2016 to nearly 19.1 million in 2019. And though tourism dipped during the pandemic, it’s since rebounded. In 2023, more than 10 million people visited Madinah’s mosque during the first 10 days of Ramadan alone. Those crowds are expected to grow even more in the years ahead—and with the help of project leaders like Alsobhi, Saudi Arabia will be ready.
Q&A: Mohammed Alsobhi on the passion of young project leaders, time travel and being inspired by a Future 50 alumnus
What’s your project management superpower?
The ability to communicate effectively and build strong relationships with diverse stakeholders.
What’s the biggest challenge facing young project leaders right now?
Navigating the complex and rapidly changing technological landscape. With the rise of new technologies such as AI, blockchain and the internet of things, young project leaders must continually adapt and develop their skills to stay relevant and competitive.
Fast forward: What’s one way managing projects will have changed over the next decade?
The use of technology will enable project managers to automate many routine tasks, freeing up time for higher-level activities such as stakeholder management, risk management and strategic planning.
Who would you most like to recruit for your team?
My mentor, Syed Ahsan Mustaqeem, who was a PMI Future 50 leader in 2021. His proven track record of delivering successful multimillion U.S. dollar projects in different sectors across the globe, his leadership skills and dedication to the profession make him a role model for aspiring project managers.
What moonshot project would you most like to work on?
Turning the concept of time travel into reality.
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