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What They Do

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Ambassadors are sent abroad to represent their country. They're the government's highest ranking diplomats. They live at the American embassy in the country to which they're assigned. Typically, postings last about three years.

Ambassadors attend and host events, give speeches and meet with the country's leaders - all with the goal of improving relations between their home country and the country where they're posted.

In addition to representing their country's interests, ambassadors represent all American citizens living in that country, and must look out for their welfare and safety.

Embassies may employ anywhere from three to 350 State Department staff. Ambassadors are responsible for the embassy, so management and administrative duties are a big part of an ambassador's job, as well. This is why ambassadors are also known as chiefs of mission.

"In many ways, it's similar to being CEO of a company because you are... responsible for the strategic leadership of the enterprise, and you're also 'Mr. Outside,'" says William C. Eacho, III. He's a retired U.S. ambassador to Austria.

"In terms of skill set, it's very similar. You have to have strong interpersonal skills, strong leadership skills and management skills."

As ambassador to Austria, Eacho has two main goals. He works to maintain a positive relationship between the Austrian and U.S. governments. He also encourages trade between the two countries.

In addition to his main goals, Eacho also supports various government agencies, like the FBI, that are represented at the embassy. "There's tremendous variety in a given day, and that's just what makes it really enjoyable," says Eacho.

In the United States, about 70 percent of ambassadors are "career foreign service ambassadors." These people have worked their way up through the ranks of the U.S. Department of State, a department of the U.S. government. Most started out as foreign service officers.

Foreign service officers can have many different career paths. They may serve in economic, political, public diplomacy, consular affairs or management tracks. They may not ever reach the rank of ambassador during their careers. Like a CEO of a company, or a general in the military, an ambassadorship is a high-ranking position, not a career.

The other 30 percent of ambassadors are "political appointees." Typically, these people have been active in a political party. They have contributed a lot of money and/or time to a winning presidential campaign.

The President of the United States chooses ambassadors and assigns them to a country. The government works to accommodate people with disabilities. However, ambassadors are subject to the conditions in the foreign country where they're assigned. In many countries, standards are much lower, making it more difficult for people with disabilities.

Ambassadors work long hours. They often put in a full day of work, and then attend events in the evenings. Weekends are frequently filled with more events.

With advances in technology and worldwide communication, ambassadors can find themselves on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week, says David Hutton. He's a retired Canadian ambassador.

Today, more and more Americans are working and traveling abroad. When disasters occur in a country, the embassy is the first point of contact for Americans in the country. So now, when disasters strike, embassies find themselves managing a greater number of people.

In addition, more government departments and non-government organizations are setting up in foreign countries. So, on top of their regular workloads, ambassadors must work with a growing number of organizations in the community.

"It's certainly becoming more complex," says Hutton of the ambassador role. "You have to work comfortably as a team member. And obviously... as a team leader when called upon."

Despite the challenges, the job is very rewarding. "It's an enormous privilege to represent your country. It's a privilege to meet your own... ministers and government leaders," says Hutton. "It's obviously a privilege to meet the leaders of the country that you're assigned to. And you have an insight into current affairs and world dynamics that is a very privileged one."

At a Glance

Represent your country in foreign lands

  • Ambassadors typically have lots of experience in the foreign service
  • You'll need to keep up with current events
  • Most ambassadors have postgraduate degrees


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