It takes awhile for Jose Gutierrez to drop the sterile jargon of a man who has made management his business. The new acting director of the D.C. Office of Personnel likes to talk about "standardizing and systematizing procedures, offering a total service package" for 40,000 employes of the District of Columbia.

But when he talks about opportunity-equal opportunity for everybody, no matter what color, no matter what cultural or economic background-the first Latino over appointed to a cabinet level position in the city administration starts talking straight and tough.

The poor, the underpriviledged, he says, can make it, can get out of the ghetto and get the good jobs.

"You're got to get the point deep down in your gut that you know you're as good as anybody else. When things get hard to endure, you're got to motivate yourself to stay in school and learn. You do that, and you reach a point in your life where you can stand up to anybody and know that you are somebody and you're good."

Gutierrez knows.

He was born 33 years ago in the South Bronx, "the world's largest ghetto," as he put it: Puerto Ricans and blacks and not much hope.

His mother was a seamstress, his father a laborer who came form Puerto Rico just after World War II.

"Since he didn't speak English, no one would give him a good job," Gutierrez remembered. "He was a proud man, so he took whatever job they would give him-clean dishes, sweep, work in gas stations.

Both of Gutierrez's parents were killed in a car accident when he was 12. From then on, he said, he mostly lived alone and raised himself.

He got a job in a New York market gutting fish and unpacking chickens. "I went to school from 9 to 3, worked from 3 to 12, studied from 12 t 2. Then got up the next day and did it over again."

He paused for a moment, smiling.

"And during all that I also found time to be involved in gangs." He was never jailed, he said. "I was too fast for the police."

It was the kind of background that rarely makes for success. But for Gutierrez, the study, at least, paid off with a partial scholarship to Antioch College in Ohio.

He supported himself there "cleaning dishes and cleaning toilets . . . You ever done that? It gives you a real perspective on life."

After Antioch, there were graduate courses at Columbia and the University of Southern California. Then came a long string of management and government jobs.

Before he was assigned to his new position, he was deputy assistant on the staff of the new city administrator. Before that, he was chief of planning for community services at the U.S. Census Bureau.

His past history is harder and rougher, certainly, than that of most bureaucrats, but his present position promises to be about as difficult as anything he has ever encountered.

His appointment to the D.C. Office of Personnel is an interim one, coming in the wake of an assault indictment against his predecessor, George R. Harrod. Harrod is on leave pending the outcome of his case. No one in the Barry administration is saying that Harrod won't be coming back, and so, no one can say that Gutierrez is going to stay.

"We'll just have to see how it goes," said the mayor earlier this week. But he added, "We have great expectations (for Guiterrez). He has to start working on consolidating the central personnel system. Technically he's acting (director), but we expect a great performance from him. He's also expected to begin implementation of the Merit Personnel Bill."

That last point is, in several ways; the major one-management of a comprehensive and enormously complex reorganization of the city's civil service, one of whose principal architects was Harrod. According to some, Harrod is one of the few people who really understand it. It is to go into effect in less than nine months.

On his third day in his new office, Gutierrez sat among more than a dozen foot-high stacks of documents. He has realtively little background in the specific field of personnel and, as he said this week, "I have a lot of reading to do."

His job would be difficult in any case, but as the first Hispanic to hold such a high-level administration postition-a position that affects so many other positions-he is also facing tremendous expectations from the city's increasingly vocal Latino minority.

Asked why he was appointed, Gutierrez said simply, "Because I'm good."

The mayor, asked the same question, said "Because he's qualified."

But few observers believe that the fact he is a Latino is incidental.

Gutierrez and his wife were strong backers of Barry's campaign in Washington's Latino community. Sonia Gutierrez was then president of the Council of Hispanic Agencies. When Barry, during the first few weeks of his administration, seemed to have forgotten some of the promises he made to Hispanics about opening his administration to them, Sonia was one of the first to decry what seemed a betrayal. To avoid a potential conflict of interest, Sonia resigned from her position on the council after Jose was appointed to the city administrator's office.

One of the council's persistent demands-expressed in repeated meetings with the mayor and his staff-was for the appointment of qualified Latinos to high-level administration positions.

Eva Guevara, executive director of the council, described Gutierrez's appointment as the culmination of almost a decade of organizing and politics directed toward giving the city's estimated 50,000 Latinos a voice in their government.

"All the years, all the efforts that it has taken," she said, "bringing people together. combined with the mayor's responsiveness and also the national attention that Latinos are getting-all these factors contributed.

"What we expect of Jose now is that there will be a well-designed, well implemented affirmative action program in the personnel office of the District of Columbia . . . that Latinos have a fair chance at competing to help run the city."

Gutierrez, well aware of this, said the record up to now has not been good. "Under the previous administration," he said, "your had the distinct impression that judgments were being made on the color of skin. Under this administration you've got to be able to cut it . . . The bottom line on what I can do as a Latino is to excel. CAPTION: Picture, Jose Gutierrez, who has been appointed to the Mayor's staff as the acting personnel director, with his wife, Sonia, and children, from left, Bobby, Michelle, on her father's knee, and Jimmy, far right. By John Dwyier for The Washington Post