Chief executives of the top 100 public companies in Washington, Maryland and Virginia earned a median income of $183,400 in 1980, and executives in durable goods manufacturing had the highest median salary of all, according to a survey by the international management consulting firm of Towers, Perin, Forster & Crosby.

The median figure represents an increase of 12 percent over the previous year, while salary increases for the second- and third-highest paid executives in the companies surveyed rose at about half the rate to $130,200 and $100,200, respectively. Between 1978 and 1979, median income for top executives increased by 16.3 percent.

The survey compares salary, compensation plans, executive perquisites, directors fees, committees and retirement income plans of the region's largest publicly owned companies. Twenty-six of the firms surveyed are located in the District, 29 in Maryland and 45 in Virginia.

Of the six industry groups in the survey, the highest-paid CEOs came from durable goods manufacturing, where the median annual compensation was $193,300. The transportation, communications and utility category was second with $189,800, followed by nondurable goods manufacturing, $183,500; retail and wholesale trade, $182,200; finance, insurance and real estate, $175,200; and services, $136,300.

Average salary for top executives was $208,000, a 12.7 percent increase over 1979 but slower than the 16.3 percent increase between 1978 and 1979.

Sixty-eight of the top 100 companies provided for short-term incentive awards in the form of stock or cash, 63 offered long-term incentives such as qualified stock options and stock appreciation rights, and 51 had both short- and log-term awards.

Only 25 companies revealed using specific perquisites, the most popular of which was use of the company car. Eleven companies paid club fees and dues for their executives.

Outside directors at 86 of the companies received a retainer and/or fee for attending board or committee meetings. The average annual retainer was $3,959, and the average fee paid per board meeting was $337.