Site Administrator quick-start guide
  • 05 Jul 2023
  • 9 minutes to read

Site Administrator quick-start guide

Article summary

Getting started

Site Administrator is one of the default roles in Totara. As a Site Administrator you have the highest level of permissions and capabilities. You can assign other users the role of Site Administrator, but this role cannot be deleted.

It is important to understand the difference between Site Administrators and Site Managers, as well as other roles. Typically you do not want to have many Site Administrators on your site - you should use the Site Manager role for day-to-day site management, and only use the Site Administrator role for site administration. You may even want to create a separate role containing only the permissions and capabilities you require on a day-to-day basis. This will ensure that you, or other users, do not accidentally change your site's configuration and important settings.

Let's take a look at the basics of being a Site Administrator.

Before you begin

Before you jump straight into configuring your site, you should ask yourself a few important questions. If you are setting up your Totara site for the first time, consider the following:

  • How will users access the site? Will logins be provided or do users create their own accounts?
  • Which products are you using, and which functionality will be available?
  • Will guest access be allowed?
  • Will your site require multiple languages?
  • What format is your user data currently in?

Look and feel

Before your users start using your site, it is recommended that you take the time to customise your site to match your organisation's brand. While you can do this at a later date, and you can continually update your site's appearance, it is recommended that you customise your site before adding users. Remember, you don't want your users to see an empty, unbranded site before you're ready for them to see it. 

You can customise the look and feel of your Totara site in a number of ways. Firstly you can change your theme(s), which determine the fonts, heading styles, colours and icons on your site. You can also configure how themes are used in the theme settings. If you're using multitenancy you may want to set up different themes for each of your tenants. If so, set up your tenants and configure each tenant's theme as required.

Next you can customise your site's front page or dashboards. You can use these to present important information, such as announcements and news, or highlight specific content. 

Finally, you can add blocks to most of your pages. These are additional items on your page layout that can be used to present information or offer useful functionality - for example displaying a calendar of upcoming events, or allowing users to quickly return to their recently visited content.

You can also display your site in multiple languages if required. You can install additional language packs by going to Site administration > Language > Language packs.

Find out more about customising your site in the course on dashboards and basic theming on the Totara Academy. 

Hierarchies and job assignments

One of the most common and efficient ways to assign content (such as courses or performance activities) is based on the roles your users fill, and the parts of your organisation in which they operate. You may want all users in a certain position to complete one course - for example, you want all advisors across your organisation to complete a given course, regardless of where they work. Alternatively, you may want to assign all users in one country a specific performance activity, regardless of their role.

You will probably want to assign content based on your users' roles and where they work. In order to do this effectively, you need to set up hierarchies. These allow you to map out the structure of your roles, organisations, and the relationships between them.

It's useful to consider how your hierarchies should be structured before adding users. Additionally, you can set this up in order to use HR import.

Find out more about positions, organisations and job assignments in the dedicated course on the Totara Academy. 

HR import

Getting started with a new platform can be a daunting prospect - chances are you have a lot of data to manage. Thankfully, HR import allows you to automatically import and update your user data, position and organisation hierarchies, competencies, and more. You can also add users to different tenants using HR import.

Instead of manually setting up your positions, organisations and users, you can import them from a CSV file or external database.

Once you have configured the appropriate settings, you can run HR import to import your data into the site.

Find out more about HR import in the course on creating users in Totara on the Totara Academy. 


With larger sites, you probably won't want to assign individual users to content, as this can take a lot of time and effort. Instead, you can use audiences to manage large groups of users. There are two types of audiences you can use: set audiences and dynamic audiences.

With set audiences you can simply add users to an audience, then assign content (such as courses or programs in Totara Learn, or competencies and performance activities in Totara Perform) to the entire group. For example, you could create a set audience for a group of new starters, then use this audience to assign a check-in performance activity to see how they're finding their new roles.

Alternatively you can create dynamic audiences, which add and remove users from the audience based on a set of rules. For example, you could set up an audience including all users who work in the UK and have already completed a basic first aid course. You could then use this audience to automatically enrol users meeting these criteria on an advanced first aid course. As soon as a UK-based user completes the basic first aid course, they will be enrolled on the advanced course. You could also use a dynamic audience to automatically add and remove users from a relevant workspace (in Totara Engage), such as one set up to discuss a specific project.

With dynamic audiences, any users you add manually or via HR import will be automatically added to your audiences based on their rules.

Find out more about audiences in the dedicated course on the Totara Academy.


The catalogue makes it easy and intuitive for users to find content that is relevant to their training needs and interests. If you're using Totara Learn the catalogue shows all of the courses, programs and certifications available to learners. If you're using Totara Engage you can also configure the catalogue to display content from Totara Engage, such as user-generated resources.

Find out more about the catalogue in the dedicated course on the Totara Academy. 

Site policies

Now before you open the site up to your users, you may want to set up site policies. You can set statements which your users will need to agree to before they can access your site. You can also add these policies in multiple languages.

User management and user data

Whether you're using your site to deliver specific training, as a hub for informal learning and collaboration, or to manage the performance of people in your organisation (or any combination of these), you will need to provide users with accounts so they can access your site's content.

The first step is determining who needs to have access to your site. The next step you need to take is providing the people in your organisation with access to your Totara site. Depending on how many users you have, and other requirements, you can use a range of different authentication methods, from self-registration to single sign-on.

Additionally, you may find that you want to capture information that is not included on user profiles by default. You can achieve this using user profile fields. For example, you may want to know which languages your users speak. In this case, you could add a field to user profiles allowing users to add information about any languages they speak.

Find out more about creating users in Totara in the dedicated course on the Totara Academy. 

User roles, permissions and capabilities

There are a range of roles available in Totara, affording different permissions and capabilities to different users. Totara has a number of default roles. Some of these are available across every Totara product (such as Site Administrator or Learner), while some are specific to one product (such as Editing Trainers in Totara Learn).

When getting started, you need to ask what your different users will need to do in the system. You may require a handful of trusted Site Administrators, as well as a number of other roles such as Course Creators who will populate your site with learning materials and Performance Activity Creators who will set up your performance activities. The bulk of your users to be assigned to the Learner role - this will give them limited capabilities in the system, but allow them to participate in formal learning, workspaces, share content, and have goals, competencies, and performance activities assigned.

You may find that you want to edit the permissions of each role. For example, you may want some users to function as Course Creators, but not be able to delete courses or activities. Instead of modifying the Course Creator role, we recommend duplicating the role and removing the unwanted capabilities.

You can also assign these roles at different levels, or system contexts. For example, one of your users could be a Course Creator within one of your categories, meaning they are only able to create new courses in that category. However, they could also be assigned the Trainer role for specific courses in other categories.

If you're using multitenancy you will also need to assign the tenant roles to the users who will oversee each tenant.

Find out more about user roles in the course on site-level user management on the Totara Academy. 

Using specific Totara products

So far you've set up a number of platform features, which are applicable regardless of which Totara products you're using. Depending on the products (or flavours) you have installed, there are a number of other features you will need to set up. For example, if you're using Totara Learn you'll need to create the courses, programs, certifications and learning plans you want your users to complete. If you're using Totara Engage, you'll want to set up workspaces and prepopulate the library and catalogue with useful content, or set up the recommendations engine.

Take a look at the guides for each of the products you're using:


Once your users are up and running on your site, you can start using reports. As a Site Administrator you can set up a range of reports that will help you and other users to understand how people are using your site. Totara's custom report builder allows you to create custom site-wide reports using a number of data sources drawn from various features.

Totara also includes a number of useful embedded reports which can provide valuable insight into how your users use the site. As a Site Administrator you can also customise Totara's embedded reports using the report builder.

Find out more about reports in the dedicated course on the Totara Academy.  

Totara Academy

The Totara Academy includes a program specifically tailored to the needs of Site Administrators, containing a range of courses focused on specific features and functionality. Through e-learning tutorials, videos, interactive simulations and quizzes, you will develop all of the skills you need to administrate a Totara site. The program should take you approximately twenty hours to complete if you complete all of the activities.

Find all the information you need in the Site Administrator program on the Totara Academy.

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