For several weeks now, Harry R. Hughes has been trying to think of something he could do or say that would clearly demonstrate that he will be a different sort of governor from what Maryland has had recently.

As of tonight, on the eve of the 1979 legislative session and one week from his inauguration, Hughes was still "looking for that one dramatic thing to convey I meant what I said during the campaign that things will change."

What Hughes has conveyed so far is the image of a deliberate, studious man, unconcerned with glamor appeal and willing to risk criticism for moving slowly if it means avoiding making precipitant and unfortunate decisions.

"I don't know why moving in fast means you're getting government by the horns," Hughes explained. "You move in too fast and could wind up on the other end of the animal."

In an interview at his transition office here Hughes made it clear that he did not intend to make a dramatic statement of change through his legislative agenda. The administration's legislative proposals for this first year will be modest, Hughes said, perhaps reaching no further than tax and pension reform.

"We're not going to have a massive package, that would be a mistake," he said. "I don't think you should try to manufacture these things just to say you have a big package."

Hughes said it would not disturb him if the major bills of this session were the work of the legislative leadership rather than the governor's office. "It doesn't bother me if that's not a novel approach," he added. "The Agnew program (in 1967) was really the work of the legislature."

The one legislative area in which Hughes said the imprint of his office may be visible concerns the state's prison and correction system, where he is reviewing the need for new prisons to relieve overcrowding of present facilities.

As a former state senator and cabinet member, Hughes said he is aware that a small legislative package could be seen as a sign of weakness in a state accustomed to strong executive leadership. But he is confident that his first session with the legislature will be a productive one.

"I'm not concerned with how we're going to do. I think we'll have an excellent relationship with the legislature. I plan to meet with the leadership -- more so than has been done in the past.

"Maybe it won't be as glamorous as some people would like to see it, but..."

Instead of using the two months since his election to prepare an ambitious legislative agenda, Hughes has concentrated on the managerial side of his new job, studying thick reports on the 12 cabinet departments and personally interviewing dozens of candidates for the top cabinet posts.

Hughes said that these department chiefs may in fact turn out to be the symbol of Maryland's new political era, the men and women who will "signify that things are going to be different."

The selection of the cabinet secretaries, Hughes said, has not gone as quickly as he had anticipated. He said he did not at first realize the difficulty of "getting the right people in the right spots." So far, Hughes has retained two cabinet secretaries from the outgoing administration and made only one appointment of his own, the new chief of corrections.

Although Hughes has been criticized in some quarters for the length of time it took him to decide whether to replace the old department heads, he explained tonight that part of the blame rested with the bureaucrats themselves. "One thing I expected right away was resignations from all members of the old cabinet," Hughes explained. He said he did not ask for the resignations immediately because "it's a matter of course that it happens the other way around."

A study of state government prepared by his staff revealed few glaring deficiencies, Hughes said, but he now openly questions whether the boards and commissions that regulate special interests in Maryland are living up to their responsibility to consumers and are filed by competant members.

The governor-elect said he was also surprised by the intensity of "turf battles" between agencies with overlapping programs. He said these bureau-cratic squabbles needlessly interfere with services, citing as an example an eight-year-old law providing physical examinations for school children that has never been put into practice because of squabbling between three departments.

Hughes, by nature a quiet and restrained politician, said that he felt an obligation to keep quiet and "get ready to be governor" during the transition, rather than attempt to generate publicity. He said that his preparation was aided immensely by Acting Gov. Blair Lee III, who took primary responsibility for next year's budget.However, Hughes said he disagreed with Lee's decision to give patronage posts to two former officials in the administration of suspended Gov. Marvin Mandel.

Asked how he would like to be judged one year from his inauguration, Hughes said, "Kindly." Then, after a brief pause, he added: "As a guy who came in to do things differently and in one year made adequate progress, turned around the image of Maryland as being good and clean, did work hard and did exert leadership."