When Prince George's County Executive Parris Glendening is asked if he has a master plan for his political future -- running for governor of Maryland perhaps -- his smile seems to say: "Who, me?"

"We have no strategy," Glendening replies. "No specific plans."

Strange words -- or are they? -- coming from someone who spent part of the last year crisscrossing Maryland to share his experiences with officials in different corners of the state.

Strange words -- or are they? -- coming from a political science professor who has carefully charted every step of his highly successful career in public life.

As a politician who leaves little to chance, Glendening is closing the first year of his second term fully prepared for all sorts of contingencies. He clearly is planning to seek a third term in 1990, the year that 66-year-old Gov. William Donald Schaefer is up for reelection, and he has closely involved himself with issues on the home front. Beyond that, however, Glendening and his aides know that his activities as county executive will greatly affect how the gubernatorial campaign is played out in 1994.

"Parris is a strong believer that you do your homework, and if lightning strikes and you are in the right place, then you are prepared," one adviser said.

Part of that homework involves raising Glendening's statewide profile beyond the Washington suburbs, where he is widely credited for leading a financially troubled county to economic renaissance.

"The success story in Prince George's will be the key to Parris being elected governor," said Lance W. Billingsley, a lawyer and Glendening's top political adviser. "That message has to get out to the people."

Not leaving too much to chance, Glendening has begun to try to build an image in other parts of the state.

He is traveling more outside the county these days. He is working diligently to repair strained political ties with Schaefer that grew out of the 1986 election when Prince George's went for the governor's opponent, former attorney general Stephen H. Sachs.

And he is trimming back his county legislative agenda for the 1988 General Assembly so he can play a greater role on statewide issues such as school construction funding, environmental protection and higher education reform.

They are methodical steps by a methodical man -- ones that could help put Glendening in position to run a statewide race if Schaefer opts against a reelection bid two years from now.

Glendening just completed a successful two-year stint as head of the Maryland Association of Counties, a post that has acquainted him well with other county leaders. He has already established a relationship with newly elected Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, giving him advice on education reform and personnel management.

"All the local elected officials know Parris well," said Raquel Sanudo, executive director of MACO. "They know his accomplishments and see him as a serious {gubernatorial} contender."

The central part of the strategy, however, involves simply doing a good job at home and following through on "a lot of promises" out there, as one aide put it.

"In order to have this {county} as a platform, you have to have the track record," Billingsley said. "Parris' fitness as a governor must be based on what he did as county executive."

There is no question that Glendening, who goes to great lengths to avoid controversy -- he is famous for appointing task forces to study issues -- gets high marks from most political operatives in the county.

Even after a tough year from a council that grumbles that the executive too often runs roughshod over the legislative branch, the year-end legislative scorecard shows that Glendening lost only two of the 35 initiatives proposed to the council, including two tax increase measures and a controversial agreement to expand one of the county's two landfills.

A hectic schedule in Annapolis this year netted the county almost all of Glendening's legislative proposals, including authority to levy a utility tax and continue a 1.5 percent tax on real estate transfers and $9 million in school funding.

There were running disagreements with some black elected officials over a proposal to shelter 30 percent of all county contracts for minority-owned companies -- a move Glendening opposed -- and the organized delay of a Glendening appointment to the water and sewer authority until concessions could be secured on affirmative action demands. But the disagreements, however bruising, did not result in a long predicted showdown between black leaders and the county executive.

There are still problems to combat, including a growing drug-related crime rate and distrust of the county police, particularly among black residents.

But there are no big battles to win or lose. The county's fiscal outlook is healthy and there are no plans to ask the 1988 General Assembly for new tax measures. The economy is booming; unemployment, at 3.4 percent, is lower than both the state and the national averages.

The school system, while still wrangling with a mandate to desegregate, has won high marks nationally for its magnet school program and improved test scores. The $117 million bond package approved by voters last year should strengthen the infrastructure for years to come.

It is those successes, his aides and advisers said, that are the cornerstone for a prospective gubernatorial campaign.

Just as Schaefer parlayed his economic development successes in Baltimore into a statewide campaign theme, Glendening could build statewide appeal in much the same way, some supporters said.

But Glendening also faces obstacles never encountered by Schaefer. Glendening is much more of a mystery outside Prince George's than Schaefer was beyond the Baltimore city limits.

That problem is made worse because the political traditions of the state -- molded by the Baltimore's financial, legal and journalistic community -- has enabled the city's politicians routinely to get elected to statewide offices that have continually eluded candidates from the Washington suburbs. Furthermore, the professorial Glendening lacks the forceful personality of Schaefer, whose knack for publicity made him nationally known when he was mayor.

"I think that Parris has a high profile among certain political leaders," said former Baltimore County executive Donald P. Hutchinson, who was chairman of the Maryland Democratic Party and president of Mega Inc., a statewide private economic development association. "The general public has very little knowledge of him just as any county's residents would not have knowledge of any county executive from any other county.

"Baltimore City's problems of the 1950s and 1960s were more obvious to the people throughout the state," Hutchinson continued. "{But} there is no general knowledge outside {Prince George's} that it was in financial trouble when Parris took control."

Keith Haller, a Bethesda-based political consultant, agreed. "I think {Glendening} would be the first to admit that his public standing and recognition would be limited to the Washington region. He has not been in a situation that would have brought him recognition in the Baltimore marketplace.

"This is something that has to be done gradually. You have to show a genuine commitment to statewide concerns, otherwise people will not react to it positively," Haller said.

In the agenda for the coming year, which Glendening and his aides describe as "more of the same," the county executive will continue to play an active role in state environmental matters. An ardent environmentalist, Glendening was the first local official this year to come up with a plan to curb development affecting the Chesapeake Bay and was an active member of the Critical Areas Commission.

He has asked the county legislative delegation to resist efforts by some in the General Assembly to weaken bay cleanup legislation.

Glendening also plans to take a lead in the debate to reform the way the state's higher education system is governed, an important discussion in the county that is home to the University of Maryland flagship campus at College Park, as well as Bowie State College.

And he hopes to ally with Schmoke of Baltimore to push the governor to provide local school systems with more flexibility in deciding how to use school construction money.

Whether all this will help raise Glendening's statewide profile and leave any lasting impression with Maryland voters is too early to say.

"Parris is going to do the best job he can," said Joel D. Rozner, Glendening's new chief of staff.

"And if he does a good job and becomes a statewide candidate, so be it."