The Foreign Service Journal - April 2014 - page 49

APRIL 2014
Guidelines for Successful Performance as a Chief of Mission
Executive Summary
The American Foreign Service Association, the professional
association representing career Foreign Service diplomats,
offers this Guidelines paper as a resource to inform the exec-
utive and legislative processes of nominating and confirming
U.S. chiefs of mission. Chiefs of mission are the president’s
envoys to foreign countries and multilateral institutions, usu-
ally carrying the title of ambassador. They lead our engage-
ment with foreign governments and act as the CEOs of U.S.
overseas missions and embassies. The Guidelines are drawn
from the collective experience of a group of distinguished
former chiefs of mission, both career and non-career, and
from legislative and regulatory sources. The paper is non-
partisan in nature. There are four broad guidelines, detailed
at the end of the paper:
• Leadership, character and proven interpersonal skills;
• Understanding of high level policy and operations, and of
key U.S. interests and values in the country or organization
of prospective assignment;
• Management; and
• Understanding of host country or relevant international
As a global power, the United States maintains bilateral rela-
tions with 180 countries and is represented at 14 missions to
international organizations. These diplomatic missions are
headed by a chief of mission (COM), who is nominated by
the president, confirmed with the advice and consent of the
U.S. Senate, and accredited to a specific country or organi-
We live in a complex, interconnected and rapidly changing
world. The right actions of nations can promote understand-
ing, appreciation, peace, and prosperity; the wrong actions
can cause misunderstanding, predatory practices, or war.
This is the domain of diplomacy. The role of chiefs of mis-
sion, who must manage these complexities, is critical and
challenging. Ambassadors are the primary representatives
of one country to another – or from a country to an interna-
tional organization – in effect, the face, voice, and ear of the
sending nation. The actions and words of an ambassador
have consequences for U.S. national security and interests
far beyond the individual country or organization to which he
or she is accredited.
It is essential, therefore, that ambassadors chosen
to represent the president and lead our diplomatic mis-
sions possess the attributes, experience and skills to do so
This paper is the product of a group of former COMs,
including both career and non-career appointees, who under-
stand the challenges COMs face. They know firsthand what it
is like to run an embassy, and the steep learning curve even
the best-prepared of ambassadors face when they arrive in-
AFSA’s goal is to contribute positively to the ongoing pro-
cess of selection of COMs by successive administrations. We
hope this will assist all involved in the process – from those
involved in the selection process, to members of the Senate,
to the American people who have a vested interest in having
quality representatives abroad, to the prospective appointees
themselves – and in so doing, help ensure the success of U.S.
foreign policy and the effective and productive functioning of
our embassies and missions abroad.
Role of the Chief of Mission
Constitutional and Legislative Authority
Chiefs of mission are the president’s personal representatives
abroad. Together with the Secretary of State, they assist in
implementing the president’s constitutional responsibilities
for the conduct of U.S. foreign relations. The Foreign Service
Act of 1980 (the “Act”) calls for individuals appointed to pos-
sess knowledge and understanding of the history, culture,
economic and political institutions, and interests of the coun-
try and its people, as well as language facility to the extent
practicable. In accordance with the Act, in recognition of the
value of their professional training and experience, positions
as chief of mission should normally be accorded to career
members of the Foreign Service. Non-career appointees can
bring other highly valuable experience and attributes that can
be instrumental in achieving the diplomatic mission.
Work of the COM
While COMs are the president’s representatives, they report
and offer recommendations to the president through the Sec-
retary of State and, on occasion and in a coordinated manner,
to members of the president’s national security team and
other members of the president’s Cabinet. Chiefs of mission
have the primary role in:
• Leading and coordinating U.S. representation abroad,
conveying and advocating for U.S. foreign policy to foreign
governments and international organizations, directing the
activities of other U.S. agencies and officials in the country
or to the organization of accreditation (except those under
a geographic command commander as determined by the
president), advocating for and promoting American industry
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