Dr.Tahir Hanif
PhD MSc MCIOB MAPM MACostE MIC CMC MRICS

In 2010, I took a plane from London Heathrow and traded my daily commute of 4 hours a day to take up a job in the sunny desert State of Qatar.


Prior to taking up this position, I had been working in London for the last 23 years. This was my first assignment abroad and leaving family and friends behind was a rather big step for me. Nevertheless, it was a new challenge and deep down, I was looking forward to pushing my career to the next level.

In 2011, Qatar had the fastest growing GDP in the world. A major exporter of natural gas, this tiny country is on a mission to develop itself into a major player not only in the Middle East but also on the World stage. The country is developing its infrastructure and other social institutions. Wherever you look you see rapid developments from skyscrapers, development projects, new cities or the establishment of Government Institutions.

I work for a Government Agency that is delivering a £10 Billion infrastructure program. This involves the construction of roads, bridges and every type of conceivable civil engineering structure one can imagine. My role includes the provision of project control advice to the organisation and ensuring that the PMC (Program Management Consultant) is providing the necessary project control for the 30+ projects that comprise this program.

It’s an exciting opportunity to work with World Class organisations, people with fascinating international experience and to be part of the history of building major infrastructure for the State of Qatar.

My top 10 tips for working in the Middle East:

1. Understand the culture

There is a difference in culture and the first thing that one should do is to appreciate and understand the local customs and norms. The old saying of ‘when in Rome …’ comes to mind.

2. Understand the working practices

The Arabic culture is very different to that in the West. People are friendlier as business is conducted on both a personal and professional level. There is a large expat community from the West, Asia and the Far East. English while spoken by many people here may not be clearly understood, so one has to be clear and speak, as Lord Sugar once referred to on the TV series Apprentice as “Export English”.

3. Try to make incremental changes

Don’t try to change everything at once. Take people with you and make incremental changes around you so that others may ultimately understand and follow.

4. Don’t compare working practices to the country you have come from

This will just create negative feelings and is counter-productive. It is important to stay positive so that you may find meaningful solutions to your problems/issues.

5. Find new and simpler ways to communicate

Understand your audience and keep it simple. Remember communication must be Accurate, Brief and Clear.

6. Build rapport with people around you

You will get better results by engaging people around you. This will only happen when you build good working relationships and establish rapport. Understand body language and mirror it so that you are 100% synchronised with others.

7. Don’t copy, innovate, innovate and innovate

Copying others is not what true professionals do. Instead try to set new standards for others to follow. Stop recycling the same old techniques, sometimes a new approach is called for. Don’t be afraid to trial and test new ways of working.

8. Develop your knowledge and skills

It’s easy to go native and ultimately lose touch with the latest developments in the industry. Keep abreast of latest developments. I personally do this by writing papers, speaking at international conferences and continuing with guest lecturing back in the UK.

Just like an athlete, try to be at the top of your game. If you are the best at what you do not only will people listen to you but you will have even more opportunity to work in the region.

9. & 10.Work to the best of your abilities and Enjoy!

You are here to work and to enjoy yourself, so don’t forget to do that, both at and away from work. An expat lifestyle can be very enjoyable and provide access to areas that may not be available when working in-country.

Article by Dr.Tahir Hanif  © Copy right.