Shirleigh Silverman, 71, retired associate director of the National Bureau of Standards and former physics professor, died of cancer Thursday at Georgetown University Hospital.

Dr. Silverman served as the bureau's associate director for resources planning from 1964 until his retirement in 1977.In that job he was an adviser on scientific and technical programs, and helped relate the bureau's research programs to the needs of industry and the scientific community.

From 1955 to 1969, he was associated with Catholic University, where he served as a research professor of physics and directed a graduate research program in infrarred spectroscopy.

Before joining the National Bureau of Standards, Dr. Silverman had worked as a civilian employe of the Navy Department. In 1955 he joined the Office of Naval Research as director of the physical sciences division. He became research director of the office in 1961, before leaving in 1964.

He waas born in Baltimore and earned bachelor's and doctoral degrees in physics at Johns Hopkins University. He taught physics there until 1934. Dr. Silverman then served for nine years as a research physicist for the DuPont Corp. in Buffalo.

From 1943 to 1955 he worked at Johns Hopkins, as a supervisor and research physicist at the Applied Physics Laboratory.

While at the laboratory he directed and participated in research in high temperature physics and spectroscopy. During World War II he supervised the laboratory's research in the development of the proximity fuse and guided missiles.

Dr. Silverman was the author of articles published in scientific journals and held several patents.

Among the many organization to which he belonged were the Optical Society of America, the American Physical Society, the Washington Academy of Sciences, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He was also a member of the Cosmos Club.

He is survived by his wife, Florence, of the home in Silver Spring; three daughters, Ann, of Germantown, Pa., Leigh Tischler, of Washington, and Lucy Ogburn, of Newton Center, Mass.; two daughters, Bert K. of Manassas, and Arnold, of Baltimore, and two grandchildren.