In migrating cells, integrin-based focal adhesions (FAs) assemble in protruding lamellipodia in association with rapid filamentous actin (F-actin) assembly and retrograde flow. How dynamic F-actin is coupled to FA is not known. We analyzed the role of vinculin in integrating F-actin and FA dynamics by vinculin gene disruption in primary fibroblasts. Vinculin slowed F-actin flow in maturing FA to establish a lamellipodium-lamellum border and generate high extracellular matrix (ECM) traction forces. In addition, vinculin promoted nascent FA formation and turnover in lamellipodia and inhibited the frequency and rate of FA maturation. Characterization of a vinculin point mutant that specifically disrupts F-actin binding showed that vinculin-F-actin interaction is critical for these functions. However, FA growth rate correlated with F-actin flow speed independently of vinculin. Thus, vinculin functions as a molecular clutch, organizing leading edge F-actin, generating ECM traction, and promoting FA formation and turnover, but vinculin is dispensible for FA growth.