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What does a General Secretary do?

By Christine Hudson
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A general secretary, also known as a first secretary or even secretary general, is usually the leader or head of operations for an organization such as a union, association, or church. His duties are very different from the average picture of a secretary, as he is generally responsible for conducting or attending higher-profile meetings on behalf of the organization and making decisions regarding the entire organization. This position usually requires significant travel, and many general secretaries take advice and duties from every aspect of the organization.

The general secretary will commonly meet with leaders of other organizations to arrange partnerships or other beneficial contracts with them. For example, the general secretary of a religious organization may meet with leaders of other organizations for fund raisers and new partnerships or even to discuss mergers. Secretaries may also meet to discuss business matters of their collective groups and how they can improve.

Quite often, a general secretary is also responsible for overseeing and improving financial relations of her association, as well as maintaining the association’s positive public image. A secretary is generally voted into her position by a committee or sometimes by a union-wide vote and is thus given authority to be the population’s voice. It is on the secretaries to help decide what is best for their entire organization and its people, as well as present their beliefs, values, and general standing to others. Beneficial events and partnerships can not only make more progress, but may also improve the well-being and view of the organization as a whole.

To maintain as many contacts as general secretaries typically have as well as make new ones, there are usually many meetings. These can be lunch meetings, phone conferences or destination meetings forcing the secretary to travel. He must discuss concerns brought to him by a council, find solutions, and make decisions based on the information he has been given so that the organizations involved can work together. At times, he may even need to organize rallies or strikes on behalf of his union or group. Other times, he may simply be required to update the council and people of urgent news or pertinent developments.

Excellent organization and communication skills are generally a requirement of any general secretary. Many organizations may also require a bachelor’s degree and many years in the particular group or industry in question. An ability to handle stress and travel are also usually important for a successful general secretary.

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Discussion Comments

By anon990283 — On Apr 14, 2015

I would like to know if is it allowed as a church general secretary to have a meeting with church preachers who have church problems without the chairperson present.

By anon336423 — On May 28, 2013

How about a general secretary of a small organization? How does a general secretary differ from other big titles like a managing director, etc.?

By irontoenail — On Jan 27, 2013

@MrsPramm - The term does seem to get used a lot in socialist sort of organizations (and also religious organizations). Although I know plenty of businesses use the term as well and in that case the secretary general really is a representative, and doesn't have all that much power. At least, not without the backing of the people in the other power structures of the organization.

By MrsPramm — On Jan 27, 2013

It's easier to think of the term secretary as they mean it for "Secretary of Defense" or the UN General Secretary, rather than trying to compare the position to the way most people use the term "secretary" which is like a personal assistant.

I think they tend to use this word because it doesn't quite mean "leader" but gives off a sort of service vibe, implying that the person in the position is acting on behalf of the people in their organization.

Which may or may not be true. I don't really like the word when it comes to certain government regimes, because it's basically just a nice way of saying dictator and is part of the rhetoric of that kind of party (not always, but often).

By bythewell — On Jan 26, 2013

I think for the most part a general secretary is going to be chosen from among the people already in the business, as it's such a high profile position, you'd need to make sure you really had someone who understood the brand.

So, if you are set on getting this kind of job, you might need to start with general managerial positions and move your way up like that. If you can't manage to move your way up the corporate ladder from a lower position, you probably aren't going to be able to handle the role of the general secretary either.

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