Ambassadorships 101: Meaning, Facts, FAQs

Disclosure: International Relations Careers may be compensated by course providers.

Ambassadorships are the highest-ranking posts for diplomat officials. Known as ambassadors, these officials represent their home country’s interests while living in a host country. They’re vital to communication and negotiation between the states, and so enjoy certain privileges and protections not granted to other non-citizens. In this article, we’ll get into a more thorough definition of an ambassadorship, present five of the most important facts, and answer five of the most frequently asked questions.

What is an ambassadorship? 

Ambassadors are typically career diplomats with years of experience in foreign service. Countries may also appoint a person to an ambassadorship because of their specific expertise. As representatives of their home state, ambassadors have a lot of responsibilities, such as:

Embodying a good image of their country

Ambassadors have years of knowledge and experience, but at the end of the day, they need to run good public relations for their home state. That means embodying values like respect and reliability, as well as skills like excellent communication, adaptability, and friendliness. If an ambassador fails to present a favorable image, it weakens the trust between the two countries and can impact decisions with national consequences.

Building and maintaining relationships

Ambassadors need to have good relationships with the government and people of their host country. That means attending lots of official events and functions, meeting with government officials, and getting to know business people, religious leaders, and other important community members. These types of relationships can be difficult to build and maintain, which is why ambassadors are such a high-ranking position. Not just anyone has the necessary skills.

Negotiating agreements and disputes

As liaisons between two states, ambassadors play a crucial role in negotiations and disputes. They have specialized knowledge of their host country, good communication skills, and international relations experience, which helps challenging conversations run smoothly and with as little conflict as possible. Negotiations could involve trade, international law treaties, and anything else that could affect foreign policy and the relations between two states.

Advising their home and host states

Thanks to their in-depth knowledge of both their home state and their host state, ambassadors are frequently asked to provide advice to officials from one or both nations. As an example, when the United States is working on a trade agreement with another country, officials will call the ambassador from that country for economic and political information. The ambassador may also provide information on the United States to their host country. What’s the difference between an ambassador and a spy? Technically speaking, a spy is someone who collects information without their host country knowing. However, countries have a long tradition of placing spies into ambassadorships. A host country may even be aware of spies, but not take action because if they expel a diplomat, the affected country will do the same to their diplomats.

Managing embassy staff

As the highest-ranking diplomat at an embassy, ambassadors are responsible for managing all embassy staff. That includes other diplomats, administrative staff, and security personnel. The ambassador sets the tone for the working environment and ensures all staff members properly represent their home country. Ambassadors are expected to know who they’ve hired, manage the budget, and take responsibility for their team.

What should everyone know about ambassadorships?

Ambassadors play a vital role in international relations, but many people know very little about what they do or why they matter. Here are five facts everyone should remember:

#1. Ambassadorships have been around for centuries

Ambassadorships have been around in some form since ancient times. As an example, Greece was divided into city-states, so ambassadors played important roles in trade negotiations, security concerns, and more. During the Italian Renaissance in the 15th century, ambassadors were deployed to protect smaller, more vulnerable states against larger ones. It was until the French Revolution that we got the terms “diplomacy” and “diplomat.” The word “diplomacy” comes from Greek and references someone who holds a diploma, which is an accreditation given to an ambassador by their ruler.

#2. Ambassadors are important for international relations, global cooperation, and peace and stability

As high-ranking representatives of a state, ambassadors have a lot of responsibilities. Their main goal is to establish and protect diplomatic relations between their home country and their host country, which becomes more challenging if there are tensions between the states. Because they live in the host country and maintain close relationships with important figures, the ambassador is a vital liaison whose decisions affect international relations, global cooperation, and peace and stability. Whenever you hear about a conflict or negotiation that involves more than one country, you can be sure teams of ambassadors are hard at work.

#3. Ambassadors have diplomatic immunity

Diplomatic immunity is a principle in international law that gives certain protections and privileges to diplomats and their families. The idea is that diplomats need special treatment to carry out their functions without interference from the host country. The modern standards of diplomatic immunity were codified in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961. Privileges include exemption from paying taxes and immunity from the host state’s civil and criminal jurisdiction, with exceptions for professional activities outside a diplomat’s official functions. Diplomatic immunity doesn’t give diplomats the right to freely break the laws of their host country. Host nations still have the right to declare a diplomat a persona non grata (“person not welcome”) at any time and for any reason.

#4. Embassies offer services to citizens traveling and living abroad

When ambassadorships are established, the host country typically gives the ambassador control of a specific area. This is called the embassy, and it’s where the ambassador and their staff have diplomatic immunity. An ambassador performs their duties from the embassy, but it’s also an important place for citizens traveling abroad. If you were to lose your passport in another country, become ill, or experience any type of emergency, it’s a good idea to find your country’s embassy. They can issue emergency passports and connect travelers to necessary services.

#5. Many countries and intergovernmental organizations use goodwill ambassadors

Most ambassadorships are filled by government officials, but many countries and intergovernmental organizations use what are called “goodwill ambassadors.” These are people who advocate for specific causes based on their fame as public figures, activists, or experts. They aren’t typically given the same privileges as diplomatic ambassadors, but they play a role in humanitarian relief and development programs. Goodwill ambassadors have been part of international relations for as long as diplomatic ambassadors. UNICEF is especially famous for using celebrity ambassadors, including Serena Williams, David Beckham, and Liam Neeson.

What are the most frequently asked questions about ambassadorships?

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in international relations, you probably have some questions about the field. Here are five of the most frequently-asked ones about ambassadors:

#1. How do you get an ambassadorship?

Ambassadors are typically people with many years of experience, so it can take a while to get an ambassadorship. The first step is obtaining a bachelor’s degree and a graduate degree in a field like political science, international relations, public policy, or a related field. You then need to gain experience in foreign policy, diplomacy, or a similar career, especially in leadership positions. Humanitarian work can also be very useful. Depending on your country, the process for becoming an ambassador varies, but generally, you need to work in government. In the United States, ambassadors are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

#2. What are the most important skills for ambassadors?

The best ambassadors are excellent communicators, proficient in at least two languages, and good at building relationships. They’re also adaptable, which is very important when moving to another country and working with people from different backgrounds. Ambassadors should also demonstrate strong cultural awareness skills and a deep knowledge of current issues and trends.

#3. How much do ambassadors make?

An ambassador’s salary varies depending on what country they represent, but as the highest-ranking diplomat at an embassy, their salaries are typically very good. In the United States, ambassadors are considered senior foreign service employees. According to Glassdoor, the total pay ranges from $109,000 to $174,000 in 2023. Ambassadors can also receive excellent benefits like diplomatic immunity; allowances for healthcare, childcare, and schooling; diplomatic passports; and more.

#4. Is being an ambassador dangerous?

Ambassadors can face many challenges, but the level and type of danger depend on factors like the host country’s political situation, economic issues, and security measures. If things are tense and there’s a risk of violence, ambassadors and their families may be targeted. Embassies can also be targets for terrorist attacks. Ambassadors are briefed on the risks of their posts and what security measures are being put in place.

#5. What’s the difference between a diplomatic ambassador and a brand ambassador?

The term “ambassador” isn’t exclusive to government officials, so you may see corporations and other organizations hiring “brand ambassadors.” These are people who promote a company’s image, products, services, and values to potential customers. They’re often celebrities or other social influencers who use their public image and creative skills to encourage fans to buy from the corporation. They have very little in common with diplomatic ambassadors other than they both want to present a favorable image to the public.