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An ombudsman is an arbiter and advocate who is hired to protect people’s rights, uphold laws and regulations by investigating complaints, and help parties reach a mutually beneficial solution. An ombudsman might work for the government, in the private sector or in a special capacity as an advocate for the elderly and disabled. Strong interpersonal skills are a must. So are negotiating, interviewing, listening, investigative and research skills, as well as the ability to be dispassionate and objective.
Scope of Duties
As an ombudsman, you interview the parties involved in the dispute and investigate their claims. Using mediation techniques, you work to help them understand each other’s perspectives and reach a mutually beneficial agreement. You might also prepare written documentation for the parties to sign. In cases where the parties are unable to reach agreement, you would forward your recommendation to your superiors.
In some institutions the ombudsman department consists of only one person, which limits the possibilities for advancement. In a mid-sized organization, you may advance into a supervisory position overseeing the work of other arbitrators. Eventually you could become the lead ombudsman for a larger entity such as a government agency or a large corporation.
Educational and Work Experience Requirements
The typical educational requirement to become an ombudsman is at least a bachelor’s degree, preferably in public administration, pre-law, psychology or a related field. A master’s degree in an area such as social work or administration will make you more competitive, but a degree is not enough. Because of the sensitive nature of the ombudsman position, employers want you to have a professional track record in a related area, such as counseling, investigation, or litigation. Some states also require you to have certification to work as an ombudsman in a state government-funded organization or facility.
A retired federal senior executive currently working as a management consultant and communications expert, Mary Bauer has written and edited for senior U.S. government audiences, including the White House, since 1984. She holds a Master of Arts in French from George Mason University and a Bachelor of Arts in English, French and international relations from Aquinas College.
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