I'd like to provide a senior manager with access to change custom fields but nothing else. This is because our internal processes have created a number of JIRA-wide/cross project fields that can change quite regularly.
Is it possible to give someone a sub-set of admin access? eg, perhaps a new global permissions group?
No, there's no way to do that. JIRA admin is three layers - System, JIRA and then project admin. There is some flexibility for people who are not system or JIRA admins, in that:
It is all-or-nothing - your manager would be able to change screens, fields and workflow for any project they have admin rights to, as long as the config is not shared.
In addition to what Nic said - there are add-ons on the Atlassian Marketplace that can do that.
One that comes to mind for this particular use case: https://marketplace.atlassian.com/plugins/nl.avisi.jira.plugins.edit-custom-field-values/server/overview
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