American for Democratic Action, angered by the conservative direction of the Carter administration, yesterday jumped aboard the draft-Kennedy-for-president movement.

The ADA, long the voice of the liberal establishment turned back efforts by some members to delay taking a position on the 1980 presidential race and overwhelmingly voted to work toward creating "an irresistible national mandate" for a candidacy by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass).

If Kennedy, who has repeatedly said he is not a candidate does not run, ADA said it would seek "an alternative progressive candidate" to challenge President Carter for the Democratic nomination.

In doing so, however the ADA removed some of the harshest anti-Carter rhetoric included in a resolution political commission Friday and left open the door for a Carter endorsement should he win the nomination again.

The compromise resolution was passed yesterday with token oppposition after several hours of debate. It wasagreed to in intense backroom lobbying by representatives of the International Association of Machinists Union, which is leading various dump-Carter groups around the country,and more moderate forces.

The substitute is a genius of political compromise between some people who want to say something bad about Jimmy Carter and those who want to do something about it," Joseph Rauh, a longtime ADA leader, told the crowd of about 250 at the ADA's 32nd annual convention at the Mayflower Hotel.

The resolution accused Carter of deserting his campaign promises of 1976 and the "historical commitment of the Democratic Party."

"President Carter has given us conservative domestic policies and Republican Party economic programs," it said.

In 1976, the ADA endorsed Carter, saying he "will provide leadership in the effort to achieve economic, racial and social justice."

Yesterday, the resolution omitted earlier criticism of the president's handling of the strategic arms limitation treaty negotiations, and a sentence reading: "Jimmy Carter is a one-way ticket to defeat and a trip to a party bankrupt of principles and office-holders in 1980."

The ADA is the largest and perhaps most influential group formally to endorse the draft-Kennedy drive, which began in late March at a meeting of trade unionists in Iowa.

The organization, which included Hubert Humphrey and Eleanor Roosevelt among its original leaders, has been a leading voice of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party for more than three decades. It has 55,000 members nationwide.

But it has not been particularly successful in its endorsements of presidentiaal candidate - a fact opponents of the draft-Kennedy drive pointed out repeatedly yesterday.

"I joined ADA in 1948, the same year that ADA in its infinite wisdom voted to draft Eisenhower over Harry Truman," said Alice Sachs, a New York delegate. "In spite of ADA, Truman was elected, and he moved to the left."

Marvin Rosenburg, a New York delegate, said, "This reminds me of 1968. In 1968 this convention couldn't make up its mind of which candidate to support, Hubert Humphrey or Richard Nixon," echoing a statement Stuart Eizenstat, Carter's chief domestic adviser made to the ADA Friday. "And we helped Nixon win."

The debate on the draft-Kennedy resolution focused not on whether the ADA favored the Massachusetts senator over Carter, but on whether Kennedy will be candidate and timing of an endorsement.

A resolution that would have delayed the endorsement discussion until January received only 31 votes. One that eliminated the ADA commitment to create "a national mandate for Kennedy" got 27.

"Any further compromise will viewed as a victory for the White House, and the press will play it that way," Wes Watkins, a delegate from Washington, said at one point.

"If we liberals don't want to take a stand, then something is wrong with us," Rauh said. "The point is we want Teddy Kennedy to be president."

In other action, the ADA endorsed the SALT II agreement and urged Senate ratification without amendment. It also voted to support Cartor's policy of economic sanctions against Rhodesia. CAPTION: Picture, President Carter arrives in Tokyo with daughter Amy, carrying her violin case and yawning. At left is Fumihiko Togo, Japanese ambassador to the United States. AP