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Leading vs. Lagging Indicators – Which Matter More?

Posted by Jonathan Klane on Aug 23, 2021 4:00:00 PM

Previous: Measure What You Want To See (and You'll Be Rewarded with More Of It)

Do you drive? Or perhaps ride a bike? Me too. When I’m driving or riding, I look ahead – I need to see where I’m going. Oh sure, I’ll glance in the rearview mirror or turn and look behind my bike even while going forward. But if I drive by looking backwards, I’m going to crash. 

Trust me – not paying attention to what’s in front will lead to a bad outcome.  

So, why the heck do we drive our safety programs by looking backwards? It doesn’t make sense. If you’re wondering, “Jon, what are you talking about?” Let me help. 

Lagging indicators. They’re the things that we tend to focus on and keep track of the most. We drive our programs using them. Oh, you know them – they’re anything that is behind us, they are usually after an event, they lag. Want some examples? Sure. 

They include injuries, exposures, unsafe conditions, lost days, illnesses, incidents, findings, fines, and even deaths.  

What should we use to drive our programs instead? Leading indicators. They are ahead of the event. They often represent a positive in the future, such as safe behaviors. Remember my driving analogy? My leading indicators are being focused on the road, paying attention to traffic, avoiding others, indicating my intent to turn or change lanes, and watching my velocity.  

For a safe workplace, we often think of leading indicators as the safe behaviors we hope for. These often include consistent use of PPE, engaging in safety and risk conversations, providing safety mentoring, creating safety initiatives, performing our own risk assessments, etc. All of these occur before events. In fact, they are what prevent adverse events from happening. Are they challenging to track? Yup. 

But are they worth it? 


Drive or ride while looking ahead, not behind. Get out in front – pay attention to, encourage, and track leading indicators. 


For more information on leading vs. lagging indicators, watch the

Next: Instead of “safety first,” we should be saying …

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