In the study reported on here we aimed to explore how beginner principals perceived their roles as new appointees. School principals are expected to demonstrate proficiency when performing leadership and management roles in schools. Based on the fact that no certificate for principalship exists, newly appointed principals rely on their teaching experience to fulfil the responsibilities of the position. Gronn’s theory advocating leadership as a career was used as a lens to analyse the data. In this qualitative study we used interviews and document verification to understand how new appointees perceived their new roles as school leaders and managers. The findings imply that beginner principals regard themselves as ill-prepared to lead and manage schools in their early years of appointment. Their perceptions were that they lacked leadership and management experience in the areas of curriculum, human resources, school finance, stakeholder relations and interpretation of legislation. Beginner principals viewed these as challenges for their leadership and management expertise. From the study we concluded that teachers needed to be exposed to leadership and management responsibilities and that newly appointed principals needed to be trained before they assumed their new positions.