What are the roles of a diplomat?

Public Affairs Officer Joshua Baker addresses Libyan media before the opening ceremony of the 2010 Study in the USA Exhibition

A public affairs officer addresses Libyan media.
(State Department image, U.S. Embassy Tripoli)

When U.S. diplomats negotiate a treaty, attend a state dinner, or arrange a visa for a traveler to the United States, they all have the same mission—to represent the interests and policies of the United States. Beyond that, diplomats’ roles and responsibilities are immensely varied.

An ambassador is the President’s highest-ranking representative to a specific nation or international organization abroad. An effective ambassador has to be a strong leader—a good manager, a resilient negotiator, and a respected representative of the United States. A key role of an ambassador is to coordinate the activities not only of the Foreign Service Officers and staff serving under him, but also representatives of other U.S. agencies in the country. At some overseas posts, personnel from as many as 27 federal agencies work in concert with embassy staff.

Foreign Service Officers are professional, trained diplomats who represent American interests abroad under the direction of the ambassador. All Foreign Service Officers listen to and observe what is going on in the host country, analyze it, and report to the ambassador and Washington. This makes U.S. policy more sensitive to the needs of other countries and their people. An embassy generally houses five types of Foreign Service Officers:

Chief U.S. Negotiator, Assistant U.S. Trade Representative Wendy Culter, far right, and South Korean Chief Negotiator Ambassador Jong-hoon Kim, far left, take part in trade meetings at the U.S. Trade Representatives offices in Washington

U.S. and South Korean Trade Representatives take part in trade meetings at the U.S. Trade Representatives offices in Washington. (© AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Economic (or "econ") Officers work with foreign governments to secure internet freedom, fund scientific advances, protect the environment, or negotiate new trade laws.

Management Officers are action-oriented “go-to” leaders responsible for all embassy, consulate, or diplomatic mission operations from real estate to people to budget.

Political Officers keep the ambassador up-to-date on political events and changes occurring in the country.

An American diplomat in Pakistan participates in Earth Day to raise environmental awareness

An American diplomat in Pakistan participates in Earth Day to raise environmental awareness. (State Department image, U.S. Embassy Pakistan)

Public Diplomacy Officers build mutual understanding and support for U.S. policies by reaching directly to publics in foreign countries working with traditional and social media; websites; educational, cultural and sports programs; and all manner of people-to-people exchange."

Consular Officers’ primary job is assisting and protecting American citizens abroad. If you lose your passport, find yourself in trouble with the law, or want to get married to a foreigner overseas, you’ll need the help of this officer. Consular officers also issue visas to non-U.S. citizens who wish to travel, work, study, or live in the United States.