BACKGROUND: Improving the quality of care for patients living with a chronic illness is a key policy goal. Alongside systems to ensure care is delivered according to evidence-based guidelines, an essential component of these new models of care is the facilitation of self-management. However, changes to the way professionals deliver care is complex, and it is important to understand the key drivers and barriers that may operate in the primary care setting. AIM: To explore GPs' perspectives on their involvement in the facilitation of chronic disease self-management. DESIGN OF STUDY: Qualitative study. SETTING: General practices located in two primary care trusts in northern England. METHOD: Data were collected through in-depth, semi-structured interviews with a purposive sample of GPs. During analysis, categories of response were organised into themes that relate to Howie's theoretical model for understanding general practice consultations: content, values, context. RESULTS: The GPs' responses highlighted tensions and trade-offs regarding their role in facilitating self-management. Although GPs valued increased patient involvement in their health care, this was in conflict with other values concerning professional responsibility. Furthermore, contextual factors also limited the degree to which they could assist in encouraging self-management. CONCLUSIONS: Providing GPs with training in consultation skills is required in order to encourage the delivery of effective self-management. In addition, the context in which GPs work also needs to be modified for this to be achieved.