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Ambassador Duties and Responsibilities
An ambassador's day-to-day duties vary based on their particular assignment. The U.S. ambassador to Russia, for example, will have much different duties than the ambassador to Japan. However, there are several core duties that all ambassadors share, including the following:
Meet with Foreign Leaders One of the primary duties of an ambassador is meeting directly with foreign leaders and representatives. This can include routine meetings to discuss the relationship between the two countries or meetings regarding a specific development or crisis. In these meetings, the ambassador's role is to represent their country's policies and interests to advance progress abroad while maintaining positive relations between the two nations.
Negotiate Agreements and Treaties Ambassadors also represent their countries by negotiating trade agreements and treaties on behalf of their country's leader. U.S. ambassadors may receive direct instructions from the president or secretary of state prior to these negotiations. They work closely with foreign representatives to arrive at a mutually agreeable outcome. An ambassador may act as a liaison between their country and foreign representatives, presenting proposals and offering concessions.
Monitor International Situations Another important duty in this role is monitoring unfolding international situations and managing diplomatic crises that may emerge between the ambassador's home and host countries. This aspect of the role requires a strong understanding of current events and the nation's political climate, since ambassadors need to seek a resolution that does not exacerbate the crisis or cause long-term diplomatic fallout.
Direct Foreign Service Staff Ambassadors also direct the day-to-day activities of Foreign Service Officers and other personnel. An embassy employs many individuals engaged in economic development, political analysis, and daily operations, and the ambassador monitors and directs these employees to ensure that they are successfully representing their country and advancing its interests through their daily activities and long-term projects.
Oversee Foreign Aid Projects Ambassadors play an important role in directing foreign and humanitarian aid projects in their host country. They work closely with foreign leaders and aid organizations to determine areas where their country can provide financial and material support to relieve citizen suffering and improve international relations. An ambassador may propose foreign or humanitarian aid projects to their country's leaders and negotiate the terms of these projects with foreign representatives.
Support Foreign Visits In many cases, ambassadors also provide aid and support when representatives of their home countries make foreign visits. They may develop schedules, arrange for security, and provide information to the leader of their country to support a successful and productive visit. This aspect of the role is not limited to high-ranking visitors, however: an ambassador may also make arrangements and intervene to assist civilian visitors.
Ambassador Skills and QualificationsWhile the duties of an ambassador can vary, their primary focus is on diplomacy and representing their country abroad. Most ambassadors have at least a bachelor's degree, Foreign Service experience, and the following skills:
- Diplomacy - the ambassador's role is primarily diplomatic in nature, so the ability to successfully manage foreign relations and support positive interactions between nations is a necessity
- Negotiation skills - because they frequently lead negotiations on a variety of topics, ambassadors need to be pragmatic and skilled negotiators with a solid understanding of their nation's positions and interests
- Relationship building - ambassadors build relationships with foreign leaders and diplomats, so the ability to develop and maintain positive relations is a major benefit in this position
- Personnel management - ambassadors oversee and direct Foreign Service personnel and support other agencies in their host countries, so they need to be effective and impactful leaders
- Conflict resolution - closely related to the ability to negotiate to advance their country's interests, ambassadors frequently play a vital role in resolving or preventing international conflicts
Ambassador Education and TrainingBecause ambassadors are appointed rather than traditionally hired, there is no formal education requirement for the role. Most ambassadors have at least a bachelor's degree, if not a graduate degree, although this degree can be in a wide range of fields including political science or foreign affairs. Typically, ambassadors have extensive experience in Foreign Service and long careers working overseas, but this is not always the case. A country's leader may appoint an ambassador with less experience if their field of expertise makes them particularly well-suited to the role.
Ambassador Salary and OutlookU.S. ambassadors are State Department employees, so their salaries fall within a set range established by the government. As of 2018, the minimum annual salary for ambassadors was $126,148 per year; the maximum annual salary was $189,600. In some cases, the State Department may pay an ambassador more than this maximum salary based on their performance and achievements, but their annual pay cannot exceed that of the vice president of the United States, which was $243,500 per year in 2018. Ambassadors also receive a cost-of-living allowance, funds to pay for their children's education, and a residence in the country in which they are stationed.
If you're interested in finding out more about an ambassador's role, we found several resources online for further reading and career preparation: What Are the Roles of a Diplomat? - the U.S. State Department provides an overview of diplomatic roles and responsibilities, from Foreign Service Officers to ambassadors
The Ambassador: Inside the Life of a Working Diplomat - author John Shaw examines the work and responsibilities of a successful ambassador, Sweden's Jan Eliasson, and how this role contributes to international relations "
How U.S. Presidents Choose American Ambassadors" - The Washington Post examines the nomination and selection process for U.S. ambassadors
From Cold War to Hot Peace: An American Ambassador in Putin's Russia - read about the current diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Russia, written by President Barack Obama's ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul
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