A Risk Sciences International glossary definition (Last modifed: December 15, 2023)

secretary-general [SG]

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The role of the Secretary-General of the United Nations encompasses a wide range of responsibilities that differ depending on the context, whether it’s within the United Nations itself, its specialized agencies, or in relation to non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

United Nations Headquarters

At the United Nations Headquarters, the Secretary-General acts as the chief administrative officer, responsible for the implementation of resolutions and for overseeing the internal operations of the UN. Additionally, the Secretary-General serves a crucial diplomatic role, facilitating dialogue between member states and often acting as a mediator in international conflicts. Another key function is to act as a global communicator, articulating the objectives and initiatives of the UN to the worldwide public.

UN Agencies

Within UN agencies such as WHO, UNESCO, and UNICEF, the Secretary-General’s role is less direct but still significant. These agencies have their own heads and governance structures; however, the Secretary-General provides overarching coordination. Though not involved in daily operational decisions of these agencies, the Secretary-General influences their strategic directions, ensuring alignment with the broader UN objectives. Their presence in high-level meetings serves to harmonize the various activities carried out by these agencies.

Non-Governmental Organizations

In the context of NGOs, the role of the Secretary-General is predominantly that of an influencer and facilitator. NGOs often turn to the Secretary-General to bring global attention to specific issues or causes that may not be sufficiently highlighted by member states. While not possessing direct authority over NGOs, the Secretary-General can leverage the office’s moral and diplomatic weight to amplify the concerns and initiatives of these organizations. This role often involves acting as an intermediary between NGOs, UN bodies, and member states to promote collaboration and mutual goals.

In summary, the Secretary-General serves as an administrative head, a diplomatic facilitator, and a moral authority whose scope of influence not only includes the main bodies and agencies of the United Nations but also extends to non-governmental organizations. The Secretary-General thus plays a vital role in ensuring the cohesive and effective functioning of the United Nations in fulfilling its various mandates.

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