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What is the Role of a Protocol Officer?

Do you like etiquette, good manners and protocol? Are you thinking about becoming a protocol officer? If you are wondering what the role of a protocol officer involves, you are in the right place! In this post, I will explain what protocol means and describe one of the many attributes a good protocol officer must have. On top of that, I will share my personal experience having met and worked with the finest protocol officers and give you examples of the best practises in this field. If you’re interested in learning more, check out my courses or get in touch.

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Do you like etiquette, good manners and protocol? Are you thinking about becoming a protocol officer? If you are wondering what the role of a protocol officer involves, you are in the right place! In this post, I will explain what protocol means and describe one of the many attributes a good protocol officer must have. On top of that, I will share my personal experience having met and worked with the finest protocol officers and give you examples of the best practises in this field. If you’re interested in learning more, check out my courses or get in touch.

My first glimpse of what I believed the protocol job involved was during my studies. I’ve done an internship at the Foreign Ministry and later at the Embassy of Slovakia in Washington, D.C. At that time, I had only a slight idea of what the job entailed. It was not until I assumed the extremely long title of Director of the Foreign Relations and Protocol at the Chancellery of the National Council of the Slovak Republic that I could say that there is so much more to it. Protocol is really not just about creating seating plans or setting up receptions. It is about making things happen and this requires excellent communication skills backed with personal appearance and conduct.

What is protocol?

In general, the word “protocol” describes a system of rules for the correct conduct and procedures in formal situations. If I had to explain what protocol is to someone who never heard about this word before, I would always use this simple description: “Protocol is good manners on steroids, with gentle (almost invisible) but persistent enforcement in the background.” By enforcement in the background, I mean the work of protocol officers. They are the people who facilitate events, meetings and make other necessary arrangements for those who are in the spotlight (or VIPs if you like). 

The attributes of a good protocol officer

Let’s have a closer look at the picture above. Can you see the little spot in a white shirt and black skirt in the background? Yeah, that is me! I only have a handful of pictures from the events and business trips I organised. The reason behind this is that a good protocol officer must be almost invisible. By invisible I mean to be always available, but in the background. There is no place for self-promotion and over-exposure. If one’s motivation is to be a person in the spotlight, then they should probably think about some other career path and perhaps not give up the day job. The key is to be invisible, but always in control. 

During my professional career, I experienced many different kinds of people and personalities working as protocol officers. Some of them worked very closely with me as they were part of my team. Others I interacted with worked for various high-level institutions at home or abroad. Over-claiming or the motivation to show off is not something unusual and I will explain why. Imagine you work long hours for weeks, or even months, to organise an event or a visit. The day finally comes and you may have the feeling that this is your event. You may feel that the people who came, came because of you. Well, I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but they didn’t. It’s always about the institution or VIP you facilitate the event for. Therefore, you must  always remember this.

On the other hand, a protocol officer shouldn’t be shy. That would be too far the other way. Their presence and self-confidence should however be demonstrated through hard work, study and professional achievements, rather than personal gains. In the end, the good work will speak for itself and it will be heard and appreciated.

In conclusion, to be a good protocol officer, it is about finding the perfect balance between being available and invisible. Being in control in the background is the golden standard every protocol officer should aim for.

If you want more tips on how to become a protocol officer, check out my classes. For more personalised help, I’m also available for 1-on-1 sessions.

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Kristina Szabova is a certified Etiquette Consultant and member of the International Association of Professional Etiquette Consultants.