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General guide to general management [eBook available]

BY: SGI|25 February 2019
BLOG| My future career

Do you want to become a General Manager? Do you have the personality traits and skills that are stereotypically associated with this role? Are you wondering if you should study general management, if it’s worth it and whether it can lead you to the job you desire? Are you struggling to know the difference between a certificate, diploma and a degree in business management? Our general guide to general management will address all these questions and more.


General management usually describes the broad-based business and intrapersonal skills you need in order to master the general principles of management. In a business, it can also refer to the level of management where ideas are turned into profit through the seamless running of day-to-day operations.


While there is a general manager (GM) role in some businesses, more commonly, people are promoted into specific leadership roles in line with their interests and experience. So, you’ll use your general management skills to excel in your management role, whether you’re a financial manager, sales manager, human resources manager, and so forth.


A foundation of general management skills will help you make the transition to a management role, giving you some of the critical capabilities you need to create and lead a high-performing team.


  • You will make a great general manager if you’re honest and accountable, with high conscientiousness and a high EQ.
  • If you’re a natural problem solver and critical thinker, plus you’re pretty good at planning and admin, then you have got what it takes.
  • Most importantly, you’re a big-picture person whose smart at strategising, with a real love for bringing out the best in the people around you.
  • You like being challenged and you like everyday to be a bit different.
  • You’re really good at communicating and working with others, and you’re decisive and quick to adapt to change. People gravitate to you and you’re often recognised as a leader by your peers and colleagues. You have lots of charisma and can usually persuade people to understand your vision.


  1. Leadership: the ability to motivate and guide a team towards achieving a common goal.
  2. Networking: being adept at building and maintaining connections with a wide group of associates and acquaintances for mutual benefit.
  3. Time management: effectively managing your time so you are able to complete projects and tasks on time.
  4. Interpersonal skills: building productive, positive relationships and having the ability to relate successfully to a wide range of people.
  5. Planning and strategising: the ability to devise a direction for an organisation or aspect of an organisation in order to meet key goals - and having the skill to execute that strategy.
  6. Organising and admin: conceptualising, maintaining and using processes and systems that allow for the efficient running of all aspects of an organisation.
  7. Communication: honed written or verbal communications skills that enable you to effectively convey messages so as to achieve desired outcome.
  8. Love for continuous learning: knowing that in order to be the best manager possible, you will always need to be open to learning, both from your own experiences as well as from a wide range of sources from books to formal courses.
  9. Strong ethics: having a strong moral compass that means you do business in an honest, transparent and law-abiding manner.
  10. Excellent work ethic: leading by example by working as hard, or harder, than any member of your team.
  11. Curious: strongly linked to learning, staying curious in your career is key both to staying motivated and to always delivering the best you can.
  12. Holds self and others to high standards: holding yourself and others to high standards in work, ethics and interpersonal relationships is key to becoming a success, inspirational manager.


As we dive down the digital rabbit hole, employees are seeking leaders who are ‘human’ and relatable. This means a manager who is able to:

  • Learn to think strategically
  • Future-gaze trends and how they’ll disrupt the world of work
  • Master EQ
  • Get the best out of your team
  • Agilely adapt to the constant ‘curveballs’ of the digital age

Business Tech’s list of top paying jobs in SA for 2019 found management roles to be some of the highest paying positions in the country.


The Fourth Industrial Revolution has ushered in a time of fast-paced change and digitisation, so companies are seeking leaders who can drive effective change management and lead cross-functional teams. This makes good managers invaluable assets – especially those who excel at soft skills and strategic talent management. Leaders with a transformational leadership style will need to inspire their teams to collaborate in order to achieve a big-picture vision, with myriad milestones along the journey.


General Management eBook


Here are five big trends we’re seeing in leadership right now:


1. The soft-skill revolution continues:

LinkedIn and the World Economic Forum both emphasise the importance of soft skills like collaboration, creativity, persuasion and adaptability. What differentiates humans from machines? Many, many things, including our ability to think on our feet and agilely solve unexpected issues that arise, plus our capacity for empathy. The takeout: excellent leaders are those who master soft as well as hard skills.


2. Conscious inclusion:

Collaboration is a huge trend, with cross-functional, cross-departmental teams breaking down silos and cooperating cohesively. Inspiring leaders need to be adept at managing multi-cultural teams with diverse perspectives. Diversity is critical – in fact, diverse management teams yield 19% higher revenue. Leaders need to open channels of communication to create an inclusive internal culture. Plus, they need to remove unconscious bias to be scrupulously fair in their hiring practices. The takeout: managers need strong interpersonal skills.


3. Ethical leadership:

We’ve seen, time after time, what a corrupt leader can do to a corporation – and a country. South Africa is in desperate need of leaders who are bastions of morality. Ethical leadership is a huge focus right now. The takeout: It’s up to leaders to have spotless reputations and cascade strong values through their companies.


4. AI and automation:

Globally, AI and automation are all-consuming topics. We’re not sure how many jobs they’ll replace and how many they’ll create, but we do know they’ll drastically change the way we work. We have to prepare ourselves to collaborate with machines and to advance our soft skills that ‘robo colleagues’ can’t compete with. The takeout: Managers need to predict external and internal future influences in their organisations, so they can identify which roles and skills will be key going forwards.


5. Work-life balance:

Self-care and wellness in the workplace are big trends. Managers need to prioritise balance in their own and their team members’ lives. The takeout: leaders need to create a culture where health and (mental and physical) wellness is prioritised. That means setting an example by looking after themselves.



There are many different branches, disciplines or even sub-disciplines of general management. These may include marketing management, production management and even information technology management. Below we have fleshed out six different key disciplines within general management.


1. Managing teams:

It’s imperative leaders that have the foundational interpersonal, organisational, systems and strategic skills to manage a team efficiently. That means optimising resource and time management to ensure day-to-day operations run smoothly. Whatever management role you ‘grow’ into, you have to know how to manage your team. That goes beyond just organising the daily workflow. Read our blog "Should I have a career where I manage teams in Industry 4.0?" to know if this suits your personality.


2. Leadership & EQ:

Transformational leaders are managers who get the best out of every member of their team by inspiring them through shared goals, clear growth prospects and the opportunity to contribute to a greater vision. Managers need strong emotional intelligence and self-awareness to persuade others to invest in their vision. The best performing leaders are high in EQ. Read our blog "Is my EQ high enough for senior management roles?" to determine whether it’s something you’re born with or something you must learn!


3. Knowledge & innovation:

Knowledge is something managers can acquire through continuous learning, curiosity and experience. A passion for innovation is absolutely essential as a leader. Just as importantly, a manager must be committed to creating an open, creative, collaborative culture where people feel comfortable experimenting and coming up with original ideas. If you enjoy this, read our blog "Should I have a career as a Strategy and Innovation Officer?" and maybe one day you could be become a strategy manager.


4. Talent & the workforce:

Competition for high-performing talent with scarce skills is fierce now and it’s only going to get fiercer. Managers need to know how to attract and retain talent, through inspiring leadership, personalised performance management, an inviting culture, desire to do good in communities, and ongoing growth opportunities. If you’re passionate about people, then maybe one day you could specialise as a human resources manager? Read our blog "Should I have a career as a HR Manager?".


5. Operations:

Managing the nitty-gritty day-to-day takes strong decision-making capabilities, the skill to delegate and trust others and a full understanding of all the systems and processes in the business. Plus, the ability to streamline cooperation across all stakeholders so everyone’s on the same page. So, you’re good at systems! Read our blog "Should I have a career as an Operations Manager?" and why not aim to become an ops manager.


6. Finance:

At the end of the day, one of the key things a general manager does is turn insights and ideas into profit. You need to have a full understanding of the business in order to effectively manage the profit/loss side of it. If you've got a great head for numbers then read our blog "Should I become a Finance Manager?" and this could be you one day.



Studying general management gives you a strong set of foundational skills in management, leadership, systems and strategic thinking.


This can help catapult your career to the next level by prompting progression to a management role, providing you’ve got the requisite industry experience. Studying general management is relevant for all levels as it is necessary to brush off one’s skills and stay up to date with the trends. It’s also ideal for first-line managers (team leader, supervisor, junior manager) in new management roles to quickly scale up and learn the basics in order to effectively manage their teams.


If you love problem-solving, people, systems and strategic thinking and are creative, driven and a natural organiser, then you’ll enjoy studying general management!


Is studying general management useful and relevant?

Yes! Studying general management can boost a flourishing career.

If you’ve ‘mastered your industry’ and know all its nuances, then you might be pushing for a promotion to a management role. Knowing foundational general management skills will be invaluable at this point. Same goes if you’re in a first line manager role and want to ‘brush up’ on your skills.


Do you learn practical and work-ready skills when studying general management?

Yes! Studying general management will give you a suite of immediately-applicable, practical skills. You’ll have exposure to a diverse range of knowledge and capabilities that tackle every aspect of leadership and team management. The aim? To turn you into the best possible leader you can be, irrespective of what kind of industry you’re in or want to be part of.


What are the differences between micro-learning, short courses, diplomas and degrees?

The intensity, depth and time of learning differs, plus the certification the course comes with. If you are not familiar with SA's quality assurance, accreditation or don't know what the acronyms NQF, SAQA and SETA mean then it is worth reading our blog on accreditation and quality assurance in education to better understand the below.


M-learning: Micro-learning has been a buzzword for a while now. The currency we have the least of is time so informal ‘snackable’, bite-sized ‘bits’ of m-learning are often the order of the day. In a nutshell? It is short, digestible educational content, commonly in video and multi-media format.


General Management Short Courses: Usually a week to ten-weeks long, short courses have long been a favourite learning tool. They’re more in-depth than micro-learning, and often come with accompanying certificates, which makes them more formal. Online courses are usually practical and interactive, with a relevant, real-world-applicable exercise you’ll need to complete. Short online courses are also a great networking tool as you’ll connect with other students from around the world. The other big plus? Their flexibility! You can study anytime, in your own time.


National Certificate in General Management: A national certificate takes about a year to complete and builds foundational skills that are very practical and experience-focused.


General Management Diploma: A national diploma is NQF 6. It takes up to two years to complete and is nationally recognised. A higher diploma is NQF 7 and takes +three years to complete and is nationally and (sometimes) internationally recognised. Having a diploma is an excellent way to hone – or develop a new – skillset, prompt career progression and go after ‘new collar’ jobs that seek people with specialised scarce skills.


General Management Degree: More commonly known as a business management degree or a BComm degree. A bachelor’s degree is NQF 7, taking +three years to complete. It’s usually nationally and (mostly) internationally recognised. It’s often the ‘building’ block for further studies at honours and masters level. Degrees frequently focus on critical thinking skills and complex problem-solving. A diploma can sometimes be more focused on practical skills and experience, while a degree can be more theoretical.


General Management eBook


The leadership, interpersonal, systems and strategic skills you learn through studying general management are applicable to basically any job. As it’s such a broad foundation of in-demand skills, it can open doors to a wealth of roles, providing you have the requisite industry experience and a keen passion for leading people. While many of these careers require a suitable business degree, general management can be an excellent kick-off point.

Some of the most popular careers include:

Management consulting:

Outsource your skills to another business in order to offer strategic council on how it can improve its systems, operations, and people practices. Entry level management consultants earn R323 136 pa, according to Payscale.


General manager:

You’ll be constantly challenged as you manage teams and departments and streamline all operations to ensure profitability. Plus, a big aspect is coaching and getting the best out of your team. The average salary for a general manager is R434 412 pa, according to Payscale.


Business management:

A business manager is expected to oversee operations, organise workflows, assign work, coordinate team members and control expenses. They’re the organisers of the department. Average salary is R394 836 pa, according to Payscale.


C-Suite leadership roles:

Senior-level managers often go on to specialise in C-Suite leadership roles, like a Chief Financial Officer, Chief Innovation Officer, Chief Learning Officer, Chief Growth Officer and so forth. Chief Executive Officer is also a possibility. Say hello to big bucks! The average SA executive earns a basic salary of R4-million, which goes to R7-million pa with incentives included. Chief executives earn an average salary of R5.3-million – R9-million pa with incentives – according to Business Tech.


Logistics management:

A good match if you love putting ‘puzzle pieces’ together, with a systems-thinking approach. You’ll manage materials as well as people. Average salary is R325 090 pa, according to Payscale.


Retail management:

Another excellent position for those who excel at managing systems and interpersonal relations. Average salary is R145 089 pa, according to Payscale.


Human resource management:

This is a really exciting opportunity for anyone with a penchant for people. You’ll apply your general management skills specifically to talent management and optimising human resource efficiencies. Average salary is R562 758 pa, according to Payscale.


Sales executive/ sales management:

If you can sell ice to penguins or, rather, want to manage a team of people who can do so, then this could be your perfect match. There’s lots of people management involved, plus product and logistics management and the honing of customer-centric experiences. A regional sales manager earns R473 175 pa, according to Payscale.



Studying general management gives you all the foundational capabilities you need to start and run a business successfully. You learn interpersonal, marketing, finance, strategy, risk-mitigation and sales skills – the perfect platform to found your venture upon. Small business owners earn an average salary of R245 780 pa, according to Payscale.


Analyst roles:

These are also an option – like a business analyst specialising in IT. You’d analyse a business and improve operations through the integration of information technologies. Salaries start at R312 634 pa, according to Payscale.


General managers are integral to business operations, playing a critical role in creating the overarching vision for a company, plus inspiring their teams to greater performance and productivity. They’re firm future-gazers, using organisational foresight to agilely adapt to change, plan for tomorrow, and navigate the tricky economic times of today. Do you have what it takes?


General Management eBook

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