Heavy traffic today. Must be the bureaucrats' payday, 'cause they all went into work."

When Harold Pryor heard that remark crackle over his citizens band radio recently, he put it down as just another "silly little example" of the widespread public attitude toward those who labor in government service.

Still, it rankled. Pryor, a high-ranking administrator at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, doesn't think he fits the popular image of the overpaid, underworked bureaucrat.

Like many of the 60 other senior federal executives attending a seven-week management training seminar at the Federal Executive Institute here, Pryor said he works long hours, enjoys it and also gains satisfaction from the idea that he is serving the public.

According to Pryor and his colleagues, the joys and difficulties of being a bureaucrat have been emphasized by the Carter administration's efforts somehow to revitalize the bureaucracy and put it in closer touch with needs of the people.

Interviews with these executives - the "admirals and generals" of the Civil Service, as an institute pamphlet has it - indicate they view bureaucracy pretty much as everyone else does: they decry inefficiency and welcome the "new ideas" and "stimulation" of their new politically appointed bosses.

The institute dean, Chong Pak, believes Carter is putting more emphasis on management than Presidents Ford or Nixon did, and that he chose his Cabinet largely with management skills in mind.

Harold M. Gibson, one of the executives studying here who is in charge of the National Weather Service's Forecast Office, said Carter has "my blessing to reorganize the bureaucracy so we become more efficient."

NASA's Pryor complained that federal executives are beset by "too many constraints had too little control over (their subordinates)."

The executives said they have come here to see what they can learn about improving performance.

The institute has trained more than 2,000 supergrade (GS-16 and above) executives from all federal and some state bureaucracies since it was established under the Civil Service Commission in 1968.

Situated comfortably in a converted motel on a wooded knoll here, the institute costs taxpayers about $1.25 million a year to run, according to its administrators. While it has been described as "a country club for federal executives," administrators say the workdays begin at 8:15 a.m. and often last until late at night, sometimes on weekends.

"I was one of those who shared the myths about bureaucracy and bureaucrats," said Pak. "But (since coming here) I've learned a lot about my government and the people who work in it. They're really dedicated people . . . They are people who have arrived. They could take it easy, but that's not the case."

The seven weeks of training is filled with workshops and seminars, some aimed at teaching management skills and others on policy subjects like civil-military relations, national interests and foreign policy and the politics of metropolitan areas.

Several of the seminars, such as "Presidency, Congress and the Transition," are pitched specifically toward problems of the new administration.

Toward the end of their study, the executives have an opportunity to take field trips to, for example, an urban area where they can examine a particular government program at the grass roots, question government workers on the scene and gauge public reaction by speaking with people affected by the program.

Those who choose also have a chance to pursue a particular research interest. One group of executives, for example, studied pollution problems in the Charlottesville area.

On a typical recent morning the executives split into two groups - one to study "leadership models and behavior" under Pak, the institutes dean, and another to study "personal effectiveness and team building."

In Pak's class, the executives split into several teams to examine a hypothetical management crisis given in homework assignment the day before. They had stayed up late preparing their team approaches to the problem, and in class they presented solutions.

Pak then led a discussion and the class ended as several of the executives "role-played" through a staff conference on the crisis while the other looked on.

At noon the executives broke for lunch and had some free time for reading or exercise before beginning afternoon classes.

Much of the training is of the "sensitivity" sort. The executives began their seven weeks, for example, by disclosing personal histories, dreams and hangups to one another in group sessions.

Dr. Ruth J. Hegyeli, assistant director for the international programs in the National Institutes of Health (NIH), said these revelation sessions were "eye-opening - your confidence in these people is increased because of what you learn about their commitment. It's very striking."

Dr. Hegyeli said her image of these persons as government bureaucrats "just disappeared" after she realized through these sessions that "they are very strong people in terms of daring to do things, daring to take risks."

She said she could make much more as a doctor in private practice than she does at NIH, but that she remains in government work because "I'm thinking of my life as counting for the future of my country."

The second morning class on a day last week was on "transactional analysis." A professor spoke to that executives about learning to "savor warm feelings" and to accept "being stroked." On the blackboard was written: "It's OK to make mistakes. It's OK to do.It's OK to please myself. It's OK to take my time. It's OK to feel."

This kind of training has been developed over decades by academic psychologists who mainly have worked with top executives from the private sector. It antedates the counter-culture movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s that may have made it more broadly acceptable to the public in recent years.

In the late 1960s some State Department executives participated in intensive and often painfully personal "training group" sessions in which they delved deep into one another's personalities.

That sort of training has been largely abandoned, explained Edward J. Jones, a professor here, because it was too "uncomfortable" and probably unnecessary.

This sort of training now, Jones said, emphasizes "task-orientation" - teaching executives just enough about how they relate to others so they can put the information to use in getting jobs done more efficiently.

NASA's Pryor said that he and his friend's working in government are "all a little sensitive" about jokes aimed at bureaucrats.

Pryor's salary will increase from $39,600 to $47,500 with the new federal pay raise. He said he is "bombarded" by comments from his friends about high federal pay and benefits, including the comfortable retirement system.

Gibson, the weatherman, recalled that when he entered federal service in the early 1960s bureaucrats were popular. The image of the federal employee then, he said, was of a "very dedicated individual, but underpaid. Now all of us here are making a comfortable wage but none of us went into it for that."

Charles L. Gandy, an electronics engineer with the National Security Agency, said he has remained in federal service because of "the rewards of doing somethings . . . I can look back and say, 'I've had a fantastic career.'"

Gandy once worked in private industry at a higher salary than he was earning in the government, he said, but soon quit because he was bored and felt "like a cog, grinding things out for no purpose."

He said that at NSA, the highly secret agency which monitors foreign radio communications for intelligence, "we're not building a tank that might or might not be used before it becomes obsolete."