Blog>Team managment

Security and Permissions in Smartsheet

Evgeniya Ioffe - January 15th 2024 - 6 minutes read

In the interconnected world of project management, ensuring the security and efficiency of your collaborative efforts is paramount, and Smartsheet stands as a stalwart tool in this endeavor. This article delves into the nuances of Smartsheet’s permission structure, guiding you through the labyrinth of user roles and permission levels—a journey that will transform how you govern your team’s access and control in a digital workspace. From untangling the web of roles versus permissions to mastering the art of automation without sacrificing security, we will arm you with strategies to manage access proactively, avoiding common setbacks while reinforcing your collaborative stronghold. Embark on this voyage of discovery to elevate your team management practices to a zenith of secure, seamless productivity.

Understanding the Hierarchy of Permissions in Smartsheet

In Smartsheet, the permissions landscape is designed as a robust hierarchy, catering to diverse roles within a company's collaborative environment. This tiered approach begins with the Viewer permission—ideal for those who need access to the materials for reference or monitoring purposes without the ability to make any changes. As we ascend the hierarchy, the Commenter role slightly expands on this by allowing users to participate in discussions and add their input via comments and attachments, vital for collaborative decision-making, all while maintaining the integrity of the document.

Building further on these collaborative features, the Editor permission grants users the capacity to alter the content of sheets and reports, enabling them to actively engage with the data, insert new information, and adjust existing elements. This level is instrumental in operational roles where data is dynamic and requires regular updates. It's the balance between control and collaboration, providing substantial freedom within Smartsheet without compromising the document's foundational structure.

At the pinnacle of this permissions pyramid stands the Admin and the Owner. Admins have a broad set of capabilities, including managing sharing settings and deleting or restoring sheets. They exert significant influence over the spreadsheet's lifecycle and are key to maintaining the project's momentum. Meanwhile, the Owner—the seminal creator—retains ultimate control, possessing all the administrative abilities alongside unique powers such as transferring ownership and deleting the item permanently. This hierarchical configuration empowers users with varying levels of responsibility and ensures that sensitive information and critical functionalities are shielded by appropriate access levels, thus sustaining a secure and orderly workspace.

In the complex landscape of Smartsheet, understanding the differentiation between user roles and permission levels is essential for effective team management and data security. User roles such as System Admin or Licensed User provide broad categorization of user capabilities within an organization's Smartsheet environment, but do not directly dictate the access level to individual sheets, reports, or workspaces. For instance, a System Admin might have overarching responsibilities, such as managing account settings and user privileges at the organizational level, yet might only have Viewer-level access to a specific sheet managed by another team. This decoupling of general roles from permission levels allows for precise control over who can see, edit, or manage content, preventing inadvertent changes to sensitive information while maintaining accountability.

The interplay of licensing with user roles and permissions adds another layer of complexity as certain features and capabilities within Smartsheet are exclusively available to licensed users. Being conscious of the license types and corresponding features can inform how roles and permissions are assigned. A licensed user might have higher functionality in terms of creating automation workflows or integrating with third-party apps compared to free collaborators, resulting in a need for thoughtful alignment between an individual's responsibilities and their granted Smartsheet permissions. This strategic assignment can ensure that team members have the necessary access to perform their roles effectively without extending unnecessary privileges that could undermine the organization's data integrity or security posture.

Illustrating the relationship between roles and permissions with scenarios, consider a licensed user with Admin-level sharing access to a sheet; they can manage sharing settings and control sheet access but might not possess the System Admin privileges required to add or remove users at the organization level. Conversely, a System Admin without license-based restrictions may adjust user profile settings or control data policies but may have no editing rights on a sheet where they are merely collaborators. Through careful planning, organizations can navigate this nuanced permissions ecosystem, ensuring that each user has the access needed to contribute to the collaborative goals while preserving the selective restriction critical for information security.

Automations and Permissions: Setting the Stage for Efficiency

In the realm of Smartsheet, understanding and effectively setting up automation and permissions is critical to achieving the delicate balance between operational security and user autonomy. At a global level, account administrators have the ability to establish automation permissions that define the default state for all new sheets. These permissions range from Restricted, allowing only shared users to receive automations, to Unrestricted, which opens automation to any email or third-party integration. While the default state leaning towards Restricted ensures tighter security, it may necessitate manual adjustments by sheet owners and admins to grant appropriate automation rights at the individual sheet level. This ensures that automations can run as efficiently as possible without compromising the underlying data security.

However, it's vital to note that any sheet-level permissions set can only be equal to or more restrictive than those set at the account level. For instance, if Limited permissions are desired globally, the Only shared users & people in your account option must be manually selected for each sheet, despite it being the account's default. This hierarchical relationship between account and sheet settings is by design to maintain a secure baseline while still permitting customization where needed. The ability to tailor automation permissions on a per-sheet basis provides flexibility to accommodate specific workflow requirements, yet it can introduce a level of complexity in management. A potential downside includes the additional administrative burden where individual sheets require deviation from the global standard, which may slow down the process of setting up workflows and ensuring that permissions are accurately assigned.

The centralized control versus decentralized permissions setup prompts critical questions for business efficiency and secure operations: How can administration effectively oversee automation permissions without stifling individual initiative, and what is the optimal balance to foster both conformity to security protocols and the flexibility for teams to adapt permissions to their unique collaborative needs? Maintaining the integrity of operational security while enabling user autonomy requires a strategic approach to automation and permissions in Smartsheet, ensuring that each complements the other to enhance overall productivity and data protection.

Security Best Practices: Managing Access and Permissions Proactively

When dealing with Smartsheet, it is essential to have a nuanced approach to user permission management, informed by consistent analysis of activity through audit reports. Regularly reviewing these reports allows administrators to pinpoint unusual or unauthorized activities, helping to anticipate and neutralize potential security threats before they manifest. This proactive measure not only safeguards sensitive data but also ensures that the right people have the access they need, without excess permissions that could pose a risk. Establishing a systematic review process of user actions and permissions helps to maintain an auditable trail of changes and access levels within the organization's Smartsheet environment.

Another critical aspect of proactive security in Smartsheet is the correct establishment of permission inheritance. By setting up a clear structure where permissions flow naturally from one level to another, administrators can reduce the complexity of managing access rights across various projects and teams. This practice minimizes the risk of accidental oversharing or under-protecting sensitive information. It is also imperative to ensure that this inheritance aligns with the principles of least privilege, granting users only the permissions they need to fulfill their role—no more, no less. This minimizes the potential impact of any breach or misuse while enabling team members to carry out their tasks effectively.

Adherence to the principle of least privilege cannot be overemphasized, as it is a cornerstone of any secure system, including Smartsheet. Assigning only the essential permission levels to users mitigates the risk of data compromise. Yet, it's a common pitfall for organizations to over-assign permissions for the sake of convenience. Avoiding this requires discipline and a thorough understanding of the functions and responsibilities of each team member. When setting permissions, consider the user's requirements in the context of their role, functional need, and the sensitivity of the data they are accessing. Best practices dictate that permissions should be reviewed and adjusted regularly to account for changes in roles, projects, or operational needs, ensuring that the security posture is both current and robust.


This article explores the intricacies of Smartsheet's security and permission structure, providing insights and strategies for effective team management and data protection. Key takeaways include understanding the hierarchical nature of permissions, navigating the impacts of user roles, setting up automation and permissions for efficiency, and implementing security best practices such as proactive access management and least privilege. By following these guidelines, teams can enhance collaboration while maintaining a secure and orderly workspace in Smartsheet.