Top executives of the leading 100 companies in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia will be paid an average of $234,900 in 1981, up 12.9 percent from $208,000 in 1980, according to a just-released study.

The second- and third-highest paid executives of the 100 companies will receive even larger increases, the study shows. The No. 2 executive will get an average of $165,100 this year, up 14.3 percent from 1980, while the No. 3 executive will get an average of $136,100, up 15.5 percent from last year.

Conducted by Towers, Perrin, Forster & Crosby, interntional management consultants, the study covers publicly-held companies in diverse sectors of the economy: 27 companies involved in finance, insurance and real estate; 29 firms in manufacturing, 16 of them producing non-durable goods and 13 producing durable goods; 16 firms in retail or wholesale trade; 14 in the transportation, communications or utility industries; and 14 in services.

Of the 100 companies surveyed, 20 have their headquarters in the District of Columbia, 34 are in Maryland and 46 are in Virginia. Broken down by major metropolitan areas, 46 are located in the Washington area, 17 in the Richmond area and 19 in the Baltimore area.

The top earners, according to the report, were in the durable goods manufacturing field, with their average annual compensation hitting $277,700, followed by the top executives in transportation, communications and utility companies, who average $268,000 a year.

The pay figures took into account the salaries, fees, directors fees, commissions and bonuses reported by the compaies in their proxy statements, the study said.

The report didn't break out compensation figures for any of the regional companies surveyed. However, a Washington Business survey of executive pay and perquisites earlier this year indicated that John J. Byrne, chairman of Geico Corp., was the area's highest-paid executive last year, earning $976,887 in direct compensation; he also earned a $1.4 million profit on stock options, bringing his annual income last year to $2.4 million.

Analyzing bonus practices, the report found that the regional companies were "more sparing" in their incentive awards than the top 100 U.S. industrial companies. While 97 of the top 100 U.S. firms provide short-term incentive awards -- cash or stock -- and 95 of them offer long-term incentives -- such as stock options -- to their executives, 73 of the regional firms offer short-term incentives and 64 offer long-term awards, the study found.

While bonus or incentive plans are a potential factor in the compensation packages of 73 of the regional companies, however, only 18 of them reported specific amounts of bonus payments in their proxy statement, the study says.

"Looking at the top five corporate positions of the 100 companies we analyzed, we found that total cash compensation rose in relationship to the number of employes in the company as well as to its annual revenues," William A. Jaffe, vice president of the consulting firm, said.