An ambassador is a type of diplomat who permanently lives in a host country and oversees an embassy. Some serve on an administrative body or as a representative at the United Nations. Like all diplomats, ambassadors represent the interests of their state. As a high-ranking diplomat, an ambassador should possess certain qualifications and skills. What’s the process for becoming an ambassador?
What does an ambassador do?
As a top diplomat, an ambassador is responsible for managing an embassy. Their specific responsibilities vary depending on the interests of their state and the country they are living in, but in general, an ambassador’s tasks include:
- Keeping their home country updated about political/economic developments in the host country
- Developing foreign policy regarding the relationship between home/host country
- Supervising the staff at the embassy
- Representing the home country at meetings and functions
- Hosting other foreign leaders at the embassy
- Monitoring personnel from other home-based agencies in the host country
- Assisting home country’s citizens living in the host country during emergencies
Career path for an ambassador
To become an ambassador, you first need a good education. There’s not a specific bachelor’s degree required, but you want to study something that’s relevant: Political science, history and international relations are three good options. You should also study foreign languages since most diplomats are at least bilingual. Most people in this career path will also get a master’s degree in a field such as business, public affairs, public policy, political science, or international relations.
While studying, getting some experience in the international sector, studying or working abroad, is also very valuable. Many programs offer opportunities to intern or volunteer at organizations dealing with foreign affairs. You should take advantage of programs that let you travel, improve your language skills, and gain first-hand knowledge of different countries. These types of experiences can help you build up your resume and pave the way to leadership roles.
Once your academic education is done and you have some experience working in foreign affairs, you are ready for the next step. In most countries, including the United States, you first need to become a foreign service officer. In the US, FSO candidates apply through the Department of State and take an exam that tests their knowledge of history, politics, management and more. Other parts of this process include an oral interview, a physical exam, security clearance, and a written personal narrative. If you pass and are accepted, you are automatically added to the FSO registry.
Most ambassadors start out as foreign service officers. As an FSO, they’ve traveled and proven themselves highly capable. While some ambassador jobs can be applied to, most are actually appointed by other government officials. In the US, the President makes the final decision and then the Senate holds a confirmation hearing.
To be appointed to an ambassador position, a person must demonstrate certain skills. Every diplomat should be skilled, but for an ambassador, these skills must be exceptional. They include:
Communication – Both in written form and in speaking, an ambassador must be able to communicate clearly, thoroughly, and consistently. They are the mouthpiece of their home country and they relate back information from their host. Take a free course in Communication.
Leadership – An ambassador is the top diplomat at their embassy and responsible for all the staff in the country. They must be able to manage people well, encourage teamwork, and be respected. Take a free course in Leadership.
Negotiation – Like all diplomats, an ambassador must be a master negotiator. They must be persuasive in communicating the interests of their home country, but they should also know when to compromise. Take a free course in Negotiation.
Cultural knowledge/awareness – As a permanent resident of a host country, an ambassador must be an expert in regional history and culture. They should be fluent in the language and traditions, so they don’t accidentally offend or cause trouble. Take a free course in cultural knowledge.
Resilience – Being an ambassador is a very stressful job, so the person must be adaptable, strong, and patient. Even when things get complicated, an ambassador should always remain calm and in control. Take a free course in resilience.
There is another type of ambassador known as a “goodwill ambassador.” Unlike ambassadors at an embassy, goodwill ambassadors are often not career foreign service officers. They are chosen by NGOs or other entities (like the United Nations) to advocate for a cause abroad. Goodwill missions with the ambassadors are organized by a state or organization, and often don’t require diplomatic credentials over than a letter of presentation. Frequently, goodwill ambassadors are celebrities or other well-known figures. Because of their fame, they are able to bring more attention to an issue. UNICEF was one of the first organizations to harness the influence of celebrities. In 1954, actor Danny Kaye served as an Ambassador-at-Large.
Why are ambassadors important?
Ambassadors are essential in international diplomacy. As permanent residents and the leaders of their home country’s embassies, ambassadors play a very important role for their home state. They are the top-ranked representative of their state’s interests and in a position to influence policy for the better. When issues come up in their host country – like the violation of human rights or national emergencies – an ambassador’s decisions can have a huge impact on peoples’ lives and the future. Whatever the problem or situation, a good ambassador works for resolution and peace.