The role of an ambassador has changed dramatically in the last few decades as the Internet and the availability of overseas flights have changed the nature of information and communications. Ambassadors, once trained in foreign languages and cultures, in history and in the varied arts of diplomacy, have had to adjust to a faster pace, less personal contact, more managerial tasks and, in some ways, a loss of prestige. Even political appointees who are not career diplomats discover there are traditional tasks that go with the title.
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The ambassador represents her nation to the host country and to the world. For a developed nation like the UK, that means living in an official residence, usually in the capital of the host country, as a credentialed foreign diplomat running an embassy. An ambassador attends official functions as a representative of her government, extends congratulations and condolences for significant events in the name of her government, and presents herself as an educated, culturally-aware ideal citizen. Ambassadors deliver messages -- and criticisms -- from their country's leaders, requiring clear communication and diplomatic finesse.
Reporting was once a primary focus of an ambassador's job. When communication was via diplomatic bag and arrived exactly as fast as that bag could travel, ambassadors were crucial to intelligence gathering and to disseminating news of developments. Today's technology means instantaneous communication is now possible from multiple sources anywhere, about anything. The trained eye and experience of the ambassador are a valued source of reliable information and advice about how to respond to events or how to shape them.
Negotiating was once the ambassador's role. Today the secretary of state or even a head of state can get on a plane and be at the negotiating table in a matter of hours. Ambassadors can assist superiors in negotiations by providing personal knowledge of the players and expertise about an issue or country. It is rarer for them to negotiate an important agreement by themselves. They do, however, work with economic powers and political powers on a daily basis and behind the scenes to contain inflammatory situations, to prepare the ground for negotiations and to oversee the successful implementation of any agreements.
The role of protector, once concerned primarily with preventing any military adventures that would threaten sovereignty or interests, has become more complex and less central. Protection now encompasses economic interests, reputations and political alliances. It also includes the very real threats against embassies and diplomatic personnel that accompany the global rise in terrorism. Ambassadors are still on the front lines to discern and deflect any danger to their country's well being.
Embassy staffs have grown exponentially. Information travels at warp speed and isn't always accurate. They must position and protect real estate at enormous expense and with exacting care to avoid loss of property or loss of life. Budgets are a real concern and must have strict monitoring. Today's ambassadors need excellent management training even more than they need excellent language skills.
An ambassador is a personal PR team for his country, promoting its best interests at every turn and "marketing" his country in the best possible light. The job of an ambassador is to be persuasive and convincing, to win favour and favourable conditions for his country.