ORIENTATION : Understanding the nature and challenges of making the transition from a
functional role to a general management role in South African organisations.
RESEARCH PURPOSE : The objective of this study was to gain insight into the obstacles that affect
the transition from functional to general management and identify steps that may be taken to
overcome these challenges.
MOTIVATION FOR THE STUDY : One of the most difficult crossroads for a manager is making the
shift from being a functional specialist to becoming a general manager. New competencies and
behaviours are required, as well as a more strategic mind set. If the transition is not made
successfully, the manager and the organisation suffer.
Research design, approach and method: A qualitative design was used consisting of in-depth,
semi-structured interviews, with 19 senior business leaders who had successfully made the
transition. The interviews were used to gather insights into the challenges they faced during
their transitions, and how these were overcome.
MAIN FINDINGS : To make the transition successfully, functional managers need to gain relevant
experience to prepare them for the broader scope of a general management role. They need to
develop appropriate skills, attitudes and personal characteristics. Mentoring is an effective
development process. Newly appointed general managers need to learn to let go of control
while maintaining ownership, build relationships and strike the right balance between
strategic thinking and execution. There are unique aspects of being a general manager in South
Africa, such as dealing with Black Economic Empowerment and challenges of race and
identity, given the country’s history.
PRACTICAL AND MANAGERIAL IMPLICATIONS : Specific interventions are suggested which are directed at both aspiring general managers and organisations seeking to assist middle managers to
make the transition to general managers.
CONTRIBUTION : This study contributes to knowledge concerning the skills and attributes
required by potential general managers, and the practical steps to be taken by South African
organisations to facilitate the development of general managers.