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The post of cabinet secretary is a very senior position, usually within a government, and anyone hoping to become a cabinet secretary generally needs a mixture of technical skill and political connection. The mechanics of selecting secretaries, called ministers in some countries, varies widely from nation to nation. Education, status within a political party, useful connections, and personal political skill and charisma can all be helpful to becoming a cabinet secretary.
Each government has slightly different selection procedures for cabinet secretaries. In the United States government and in most state governments, these positions require appointment by the chief executive, generally the President or a governor. Senatorial approval is required for cabinet-level posts in the United States government as well. In other nations, cabinet secretaries are drawn from the top ranks of parliamentarians, usually through a process of consultation among party leaders.
Cabinet secretaries are often expected to be experts in their fields, although some governments appoint secretaries without specific portfolios. The technical qualifications needed to become a cabinet secretary may include formal education or may be based on work in related fields in the private sector or in government service. Secretaries of the Treasury in the United States are often drawn from the upper echelons of the Federal Reserve System or the financial industry as the cabinet secretary duties performed by these officials are quite technical in nature.
In some cases, cabinet secretaries are chosen as impartial technocrats. In a majority of cases, however, a man or woman must be affiliated with a political party and held in high regard. The political capital necessary to become a cabinet secretary might come from long service within a political party and the holding of progressively more important positions. Cabinet secretaries can also have begun their careers in other fields but have built reputations as reliable allies of a particular politician or political party.
In some nations, such as the United Kingdom, opposition parties maintain shadow cabinets. In these cabinets shadow ministers serve to express dissenting views to their corresponding ministers in the government. Shadow positions often lead to cabinet positions when control of government changes hands.
The degree of party loyalty and service required to become a cabinet secretary varies widely among nations. In the Soviet Union, party loyalty was often of critical importance although loyalty to key figures within the party was also important. Many modern communist countries operate in a similar fashion, and a man or woman looking to become a cabinet secretary in such nations should cultivate a reputation for personal and party loyalty. In other nations, such as the United States, cabinet secretaries are sometimes chosen in an attempt to build new political relationships or heal old wounds rather than solely on the basis of loyalty.
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