Chief of State: Definition, Role & Examples

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  • 0:01 What Is a Chief of State?
  • 0:49 Chief of State vs.…
  • 1:25 Different Chiefs of…
  • 2:29 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Flint Johnson

Flint has tutored mathematics through precalculus, science, and English and has taught college history. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Glasgow

Learn about a government's chief of state and how the role varies from country to country depending on the type of government. When you are finished, take the quiz and see what you've learned.

What is a Chief of State?

Elizabeth II, probably the most recognizable head of state in the world who is not also a head of government
Elizabeth II

When you think of a chief of state, you probably go right to the president of the United States. The U.S. president is often called the most powerful person in the world, so you get this picture in your mind of someone who is almost a supreme ruler for however long he (or she) is in office.

Chief of state, or head of state, is really only a part of the president's role, though. Chief of state is the individual a country calls on when it needs a spokesperson to talk with a foreign country. When a country needs to focus all of its national pride on someone at a national celebration, like a holiday or even an important sporting event, the focus is on the head of state. The head of state is the person the world sees. He or she is also the person a country sees when there are national issues that need to be discussed, like foreign policy, healthcare, or taxes.

Chief of State vs. Head of Government

It's important to note that the president of the United States is not just the head of state, the president is also head of government. The U.S. isn't the only country that combines the two offices, but they are two different positions. The head of government is the leading executive officer. In the U.S., the head of government (the president) can select advisors, suggest laws, veto bills, and even provide candidates for the Supreme Court to Congress.

In a country where the two offices are separate, the head of government generally makes the decisions. If the head of state has any official power, he or she is expected to approve them.

David Cameron, Prime Minister of Great Britain and head of government
David Cameron

Different Chiefs of State Around the World

Many countries copy the U.S. South America had its revolutionary wars during the early nineteenth century and borrowed ideas from the U.S. In some ways it's just simpler to give one person all of the public responsibility and executive power than to split them up.

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