Secretary General

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General secretary is a common term for a leadership position in an organization . In terms of protocol, it is located below a president or chairman , which, however, does not always correspond to the real balance of power.

As a rule, the Secretary General is the head of administration , organization and the superior of the full-time employees. While the organisation's board of directors, often voluntary , makes important fundamental decisions, the general secretary is responsible for day-to-day business. The term general secretary is common in Germany, for example, for political parties and sports associations .

Comparable official titles for this function are CEO (especially in chambers ) or General (z. B. with foundations ).

League of Nations and United Nations

In the League of Nations (1920 to 1946) the chairman was General Secretary . At the United Nations (since 1945), the UN Secretary General is the highest administrative officer of the UN Secretariat . António Guterres has been Secretary General of the United Nations since January 1, 2017 .

European Union

In the European Union (EU) there is the General Secretariat of the Council of the European Union in Brussels to support the Council of the European Union , its President , the European Council and its President and is headed by a Secretary General. Since July 1, 2015 by the Dane Jeppe Tranholm-Mikkelsen . In addition, there is the General Secretariat of the European Commission in Brussels and has been headed by the German Martin Selmayr since March 1, 2018 .


The NATO Secretary General is the chairman of the North Atlantic Council and heads the General Secretariat with the International Staff ( IS ). In addition, the Secretary General will chair the Nuclear Planning Group (Engl. Nuclear Planning Group, NPG ). The Norwegian Jens Stoltenberg has been the NATO Secretary General since October 1, 2014 .

Arab League

The General Secretariat of the Arab League , based in Cairo (Egypt), has been headed by General Secretary Ahmed Aboul Gheit since 2016 .


The Association of Southeast Asian Nations , or ASEAN for short, has a general secretariat in Jakarta (Indonesia). ASEAN's General Secretary has been Lim Jock Hoi from Brunei since January 1, 2018 .

Governments and ministries

In Austria , the Federal Ministries Act provides that the respective head of department “ can entrust a general secretary with the comprehensive handling of all business within the scope of the Federal Ministry” . He has authority over the (other) section heads , the regular highest ministerial officials.

Similar regulations can also be found in other, primarily Romance countries. As the highest administrative officials, general secretaries usually form the interface between the political leadership (ministers and parliamentary state secretaries) and the departments or general directorates of the highest government authorities such as ministries or presidential offices, provided that their departments or comparable organizational units are not combined into main departments. As the highest administrative officials, general secretaries assume the function of a head of office and an adviser to political management. The origins of the ministerial general secretaries lie in France . In German federal ministries, civil servants state secretaries , who are responsible for two or more or all departments, depending on the ministry, perform a similar task . In state ministries, there is usually a ministerial director in charge of the office and thus the highest administrative officer.

Political parties in parliamentary systems

In many parties, the general secretary supports the work of the party leader , also known as the chairman or party president . His work in Germany is that of a chief executive of the respective party, as it were the " authorized signatory of the party chairman".

He organizes the election campaigns, the party congresses and membership decisions. Furthermore, he takes care of member recruitment and coordinates the cooperation within the party on the various hierarchical levels, from the local level to the federal party level. The general secretary also works significantly on the future strategies and the further development of the party. He is usually an employee of the party and receives his salary from there.


In German parties, however, it is customary for the general secretary to take on the political side of the party organization and to express the party's political standpoints to the outside world in a particularly pointed manner. In contrast, the federal manager takes on the internal organization of the party.

Such a structure can be found in:

The Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) has so far dispensed with a general secretary at federal level, among other things for cost reasons.

At Bündnis 90 / Die Grünen , political positions are traditionally carried outwardly by the dual leadership of the board. The closest comparable position with the Greens is that of a “political federal manager”. The left also has no secretary general.

In the Pirate Party Germany it is more common for the Secretary General to take on non-political tasks of internal administration in addition to the membership administration. For political issues, there is a political managing director (pol.GF) in many divisions, including in the federal association.


General secretaries of Swiss parties are mostly responsible for the political background work. They mediate inside and outside the party and also take on organizational tasks.

Traditionally, they are not members of a parliament or any other political body. Since all other parliamentarians are at least theoretically militia politicians (part-time workers ), Swiss general secretaries are the only professional politicians besides the Federal Councilors .

Other countries

In various other countries, such as Spain and Italy , it is common for the chairman of a party to only carry out representative tasks, while the actual party leadership lies with the general secretary. Often a vice-general secretary takes over the functions that the general secretary fulfills in Germany. Also Austrian parties have often next to the party leader or federal party leader and Federal Manager one or more secretaries general.

Communist parties in the Soviet system

The general secretary of the communist parties in the Soviet system was the chairman of the secretariat of the Central Committee and, thanks to his prominent position in the party apparatus (including in the Politburo ), had great decision-making powers that had an impact on the whole country.

Soviet Union

The office of general secretary was created in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1922, the first incumbent was Josef Stalin . Over the course of a few years, he expanded his office to become the most important in the party and in the state, and gave him dictatorial powers. From 1934 onwards, Stalin's position of power was so undisputed that no separate confirmation was given in the office of General Secretary.

Although Stalin held no other office until 1941, especially no official state office, he was the most powerful man in the Soviet Union; State offices such as that of the head of government (chairman of the Council of People's Commissars ) or of the head of state ( chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet ) were assigned to followers after his decision. This made the position of General Secretary a de facto dictatorship , with the Central Committee having more, sometimes less say. In 1941, Stalin also took over the office of head of government and was subsequently mostly titled “Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars” (1941-1946), Marshal (from 1943) or Generalissimo (from 1945).

After Stalin's death in 1953, the title of General Secretary was initially waived: Georgi Malenkov , who as the highest-ranking secretary of the Central Committee initially headed the business, was semi-officially named First Secretary , which was taken over as the official title of party leader from September 7, 1953 and by Nikita Khrushchev and after his fall in 1964 it was led by Leonid Brezhnev . From 1966 the highest office of the party was again designated as general secretary .


After the Second World War , a similar system of government was introduced in the other Eastern Bloc countries . In the former Soviet occupation zone (SBZ), the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) was founded in 1946 through the forced unification of the SPD and KPD . In 1949 the GDR emerged from the Soviet occupation zone in October 1949 , in which the SED held a monopoly of power.

As head of the party organization, General Secretary Walter Ulbricht (from July 24, 1950) outpaced the two party leaders , Wilhelm Pieck (1949–1960 first President of the GDR ) and Otto Grotewohl (1949–1964 first Prime Minister ). From 1960, Ulbricht also nominally assumed the office of head of state as chairman of the state council. The power of the highest party office, which from 1953 to 1976 was named First Secretary based on the Soviet model , continued under Ulbricht's successors.

Current communist parties in power

Official title Current owner since
General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party Xi Jinping November 15, 2012
First Secretary of the Labor Party of Korea Kim Jong Un December 17, 2011
General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam Nguyễn Phú Trọng January 19, 2011
General Secretary of the Lao People's Revolutionary Party Bounnhang curtain 22nd January 2016
First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba Raúl Castro April 19, 2011

See also

Web links

Wiktionary: General Secretary  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Chief executive officers  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Communist Party of the Soviet Union in: Microsoft Encarta - "Thanks to his dominant position in the party apparatus, the General Secretary, who was able to make himself submissive to the political bureau and secretariat in the long term by skillfully exploiting his monopoly in personnel policy, embodied the actual leadership in the party and thus also in the state . "
  2. ibid p. 73
  3. Vladimir Shlapentokh: A Normal Totalitarian Society: The Soviet Union - How It Functioned and How It Collapsed . ME Sharpe, Inc., New York 2001, ISBN 1-56324-471-3 , The Political System The Supreme Leader As the Major Institution, pp. 71 ff .