Achieving 'a social licence to operate' is important for organisations with long time horizons, high exposure to global markets and with a wide range of interested stakeholders. Community engagement is critical to achieve a social licence to operate, but its capacity to influence social licence is not well understood. Using case studies from forestry in New Brunswick, Canada and Tasmania, Australia, this article considers what social licence is, how community engagement plays a role in achieving social licence and how an alternative conceptualisation of social licence may improve the influence of community engagement in achieving a social licence to operate. Social licence is often conceived of as a single licence granted by a 'community'. We argue that social licence is better conceptualised as a continuum of multiple licences achieved across various levels of society. Viewed in this way, we can consider what is needed to achieve social licences at given points along that continuum, and identify the strengths and weaknesses of specific engagement techniques in achieving particular social licences.