Sunday, June 23, 2019

"Acting": Not Entertainment, But Plenty of Improv

One of the reasons I haven't blogged in a few weeks is because I was Acting Public Affairs Officer (A/PAO) for several weeks. In the Foreign Service context, "Acting" means you're formally serving in a higher role in someone's place. This is why, between Secretaries of State Tillerson and Pompeo, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan became "Acting Secretary of State". Unlike simply covering for your boss in his or her absence in other fields, serving in an acting role is a bit more formalized in our work. You make the decisions that fall to someone in that position and assume their responsibilities. (And for our acronyms, you can add "A/" to the beginning to designate "Acting".)

I had served as Acting Information Officer (A/IO) and Acting Cultural Affairs Officer (A/CAO) before, but this time I was asked to be the Acting PAO (my boss's boss) for almost three weeks during the absence of the PAO, IO, and at the very end even briefly the CAO. I'm not going to lie - this was a real challenge! I had to figure out a lot of things on my own, but thankfully I had great mentors to encourage and support me. For example, I had to lead a murder board session to prepare the Ambassador for tough questions for an upcoming live interview, but I had never even sat in on or contributed to a murder board before. All I have to say on that is that the following is true: you have to fake it 'til you make it.

To get an idea of how many levels up I was working, you can see the Foreign Service salary table (which includes class, also known as grade, in the left column) here. Counterintuitively, the lower the grade number, the higher your rank. Like other Foreign Service Officers who have not yet been tenured, I am currently a grade 4. When I have served as A/IO or A/CAO, I've been filling grade 2 jobs - this is called a "double-stretch" because I "stretched" from grade 4 up two levels to grade 2. The A/PAO role I filled for a few weeks is actually one level above this chart in the Senior Foreign Service, which made it a quadruple-stretch for me!

I was delighted to receive my boss's text that she had returned to Kenya, which means she can now be A/PAO and I can focus on covering the many other portfolios of those who are out of the office. At the same time, I was grateful to be afforded this opportunity to take on a lot more responsibility than I have previously. As the PAO put it before he left: "We're giving you the keys to the car, so don't crash it!" I learned a lot by attending senior meetings, fielding and following up on inquiries from Washington, and trying to keep the car from crashing. Despite the extra stress and pressure, I'm glad I had the challenge and the chance to grow. (Plus, now I'm looking forward even more to the break of home leave just around the corner!)

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