MAKING IT TO THE TOP: What are the work qualities that rank highest with the nation's corporate executives when they are handing out promotions to promising subordinates?

In a recent survey of 1,086 top and middle executives at 13 major American corporations (including Washington's Woodward & Lothrop department store chain), 90 percent cited 11 traits as keys to climbing the career ladder.

They may be "Boy Scout things," acknowledges management consultant Alan Cox, whose survey findings appear in The Cox Report on the American Corporation (Delacorte, 451 pp., $21.95), but that doesn't diminish their importance.

The qualities:

* Aggressiveness -- in the sense, says Cox, of "getting things done that ought to get done."

* Drive -- possessing energy and being a self-starter.

* High expectations of self.

* Persuasiveness.

* Thinking positively.

* Perceptiveness about people.

* Displaying loyalty to the company.

* Setting -- and sticking to -- priorities.

* Punctuality.

* Adhering to deadlines.

* Staying abreast of the field.

Beyond these, a "high priority" is a college education, although Cox, author also of Confessions of a Corporate Headhunter, says neither a Master of Business Administration nor even a degree from a prestigious university is all that essential.

"It isn't difficult," he writes, "to conceive of a manager from, say, South Dakota -- who worked his way through a state university, then up the corporate ladder -- being suspicious of a prestige school graduate."

Still, he found in his survey, corporate executives "remain biased in favor of business degrees," especially over the liberal arts curriculum. Liberal arts grads are rated about as high as "thieves" and "murderers." A business grad is regarded as someone eager for a business career.

The doors aren't absolutely shut to a history major who suddenly decides marketing is for him or her, but the best route to getting hired, suggests Cox, is to go on and get an M.B.A.

Once on the corporate rolls, aspiring executives will want to see how well they are adhering to what appears to be the standard career timetable to the top.

They should look at their twenties, says Cox, "as a time to establish their craft"; the thirties as the years "to expand their skills" and the forties as "the time to move into top management or accept the likelihood you won't."

The main age range for promotion to top management: 40 to 45.