Delivering the mission statement
A Foreign & Commonwealth Office case study

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Page 4: Roles and responsibilities

FCO staff come from a wide range of ethnic, religious, gender, social, sexual and professional backgrounds. This broad basis means people and their skills can be matched to particular projects and assignments appropriately. People work to their strengths and build on their existing skills. People can join the organisation at various entry levels from Administrative Assistant to Team Leaders. One of these levels is the Operational Officer.

The role of the Operational Officer gives a good example of the range of projects that members of the FCO work on. Operational Officers deal with the practical side of FCO's work both in the UK and overseas. They typically spend three years in London working on policy and service delivery roles before going overseas to work in one of the 260 posts in FCO's global network.

An example of a policy role is the Arms Trade Desk Officer. Their aim is to put together a global Arms Trade Treaty to curb the irresponsible trade and transfer of arms that are used to undermine stability, democracy, development and human rights. It requires transferable skills that can be used in many work areas.

Operational Officers need to be good communicators as the situations they deal with can change from day-to-day - chairing meetings or public speaking one day, helping a British national in trouble another and dealing with the media the next. They must be good at working with many different types of people; they can work alongside a range of people such as government officials or someone seeking political asylum.

Operational Officers also have to have good judgement and the ability to make the right decision at the right time. It also requires confidence to take on different tasks and in challenging circumstances including overseas.  For example, the FCO has been involved in:

  • improving security in Iraq
  • assisting the return of refugees in Kosovo
  • helping women in Morocco to use their rights under family law
  • protecting Borneo's rainforests
  • raising awareness about human trafficking
  • organising a trade event such as the World Trade Week UK which highlights the importance of global trade in creating jobs and growth. It will help showcase the UK as a trading nation and the importance of global trade to reducing global poverty.

As FCO roles are so varied and responsibilities high, training and development is very important for career progression in the FCO. People joining FCO have an initial four weeks induction training to learn about the organisation. After that, individuals work with their managers to decide what training is best for them according to their role.

Additionally, coaching and mentoring by managers helps FCO people to reach their full potential within their role and have the opportunity to progress into management roles or different areas of the organisation. To be effective in meeting FCO's goals and objectives, Operational Officers need to be flexible in approach and be able to cope with change. Their work often involves solving problems, like a lost passport or finding diplomatic solutions for local problems. For instance they may need to work with police and the local community if UK football fans were visiting another country for a big game. 

James is a university graduate interested in international affairs and overseas travel:

'I was attracted to FCO because I wanted the opportunity to travel and be a part of the challenging and interesting projects it has all over the world. I joined the FCO in 2007 as an Operational Officer. My first role in the FCO was working on the economic impact of Climate Change to countries such as Bangladesh, Pakistan and India. I dealt with politicians, business leaders and members of the public. I am now Deputy Head of the Overseas Learning and Development team, part of FCO's Human Resources function managing the FCO's regional training centres. I have worked in South Africa, Hong Kong and Dubai. FCO provides on-going training to ensure its people have relevant, transferable skills for their jobs. I genuinely feel that the organisation is committed to investing in my future.'

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Foreign & Commonwealth Office | Delivering the mission statement