When Ivanhoe Donaldson, the key adviser to mayor-elect Marion Barry, was asked yesterday how the soon-to-be Barry administration was progressing on its selection of a new city administrator, Donaldson answered in a single word:

"Cautiously," he said.

The response is typical of the tone that surrounds Barry, his 13-person transition team and his confidants as they formulate a structure and ponder the people to make up the new administration, which takes office Jan. 2 as the second District of Columbia since 1971.

There are five weeks remaining before Barry, who during his campaign promised a government of "competence and compassion" to replace the "bumbling and bungling" of Mayor Walter E. Washington, becomes chief executive of the citys $1-billion-a-year, 44,000-worker bureaucracy.

That is time enough, Barry said, in a telephone interview yesterday, to select the key aides and top department heads whose names and face now are the least frequent topic of discussion in transition circles.

"We're not really looking at personnel at this point," said transition team chairman Delano E. Lewis. Rather, Lewis said, the Barry group is hoping to formulate its structure first, and then let the shape of the government determine the people to run it, instead of the other way around.

Barry has been tight-lipped about the activities of the transition refusing to volunteer, confirm or deny the names of the few persons known to be under consideration for top jobs, and supporting a directive from Lewis that the members of 15 transition task forces not talk to reporters.

"I don't want to dribble out the government. I would like to have an opportunity to announce a package," the mayor-elect said yesterday. "That's our policy."

Barry has said, however, that "it is safe to assume" that two persons from his campaign staff will be in the administration:

Donaldson, 36, a long-time friend of Berry's, former civil rights activist and the principal architect of Barry's rise to political prominence, will hold a top position. Donaldson said yesterday that post will not be city administrator. Rather, he is likely to be some kind of assistant to the mayor and remain on the job for no longer than two years, he said.

Florence Tate, 47, a former reporter for The Dayton Daily News and one-time director of communications for the National Urban Coalition, almost certainly will be Barry's press secretary. Like Barry, Tate is from Memphis, but said she never knew Barry there. She is also, like Barry, a former civil rights activist. Tate was press secretary for the campaign organization.

Anita Bonds, deputy manager of the campaign, and Courtland Cox, a policy adviser for the campaign organization, also are likely to come into the Barry administration in key assistant roles, according to knowledgeable transition sources.

Two other persons not directly associated with Barry's campaign are certain to play key roles in the administration, according to several sources.

Gladys W. Mack, 44, acting D.C. budget director, is a key contender for the job of city administrator, budget director or some other top post in the Barry administration. Mack was the city's deputy budget director for three years and before that director of budget and finance at Washington Technical Institute. In the past, Barry himself has spoken highly in private of her skills and potential role in his administration.

Dwight S. Cropp, executive secretary of the D.C. Board of Education, is likely to hold some top post in the Barry administration, sources said. Some believe he is a leading candidate for the job of executive secretary - a function similar to that of city clerk - now held by Martin K. Schaller.

One Barry confidant said yesterday that four members of Barry's City Council staff also are likely to get jobs in the new administration - executive assistant Edward Meyers, administrative assistant patricia Seldon, finance and revenue committee clerk Marshall Whitely andcommitte lawyer Marlene Johnson.

In some political circles, there is a belief that other Barry confidants are likely to occupy key jobs in the new administration, despite Barry's ascertion earlier this month that most of those on the transition team were not looking for employment with him.

James O. Gibson, a urban planner at the Potomac Institute, for example, is in carge of the transition task force organizing Barry's 34-member office staff. Gibson is considered by some to be a prime candidate to replace Ben W. Gilbert, whom Barry has promised to fire as head of the city's planning office. But Gibson said yesterday that he is "not likely" to be in the administration.

Herbert O. Reid, former dean of Howard University Law School and a long-time Barry condidant, is considered by some a likely choice to be Corporation Counsel, replacing Acting Corporation Counsel Louis P. Robins. Donaldson said yesterday that Reid would "be key in determining who's gonna be corporation counsel" but may not necessarily hold the job himself.

The four top jobs the Barry administration is likely to fill first, the mayor-elect said yesterday, are that of city administrator, corporation counsel budget director and housing director. The current housing director, Lorenzo W. Jacobs Jr., has for months been at the top of Barry's "hit list" of department heads targeted for dismissal.

Lewis and Donaldson said that the housing department staff is likely to be overhauled well beyond the level of the director. "You're gonna see new players in housing across the board." Donaldson said, "Marion's gonna have his own mark on the housing policy of the city."

Lewis said he expects to receive this week reports from the 15 task forces on short term actions that the Barry administration must take during its first days in offices.

So far, Lewis said, he has received about 15 resumes of persons interested in jobs in the new administration.