Relaciones Internacionales – Comunicación Internacional

The Role of the UN Secretary-General (CFR)

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Secretary-General António Guterres at the UN headquarters in New York City.

The United Nations’ top leadership position has broad authority to steer the organization’s agenda, but its impact has varied widely since 1946.

  • The secretary-general, appointed by the General Assembly’s 193 member states, serves as the chief administrative officer of the United Nations.
  • Common responsibilities include making appointments to UN posts, overseeing peacekeeping missions, and mediating conflict.
  • Previous secretaries-general have often struggled to balance the role’s competing interests. Current officeholder António Guterres has focused on climate change, peacekeeping, and reforming UN management.


The United Nations’ first secretary-general, Trygve Lie, called it the most difficult job in the world. Some of the difficulty lies in the job description. Though U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, several years before the United Nations’ creation, saw the secretary-general’s role as that of a “world moderator,” the UN charter refers to the secretary-general as the body’s “chief administrative officer.” Each of the nine secretaries to date has tended to favor one of these roles.

The current secretary-general, Portugal’s António Guterres, has focused on advancing sustainable development and regulating digital technologies, even as he has faced a staggering range of crises, including worsening climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, and Russia’s war in Ukraine. Despite the challenges that all secretaries-general have confronted, what appears to be constant is the ambiguous nature of the position itself—a role bifurcated between the tasks of “secretary” and “general,” and almost always more of the former than the latter.



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