Sen. Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.), who was elected Senate majority leader by his Republican colleagues yesterday, has been called Congress' most effective and adroit legislative craftsman, one of its toughest competitors and its quickest and most biting wit.

He once jokingly referred to three former presidents, Jimmy Carter, Gerald R. Ford and Richard M. Nixon, as "see no evil . . . hear no evil . . . and evil."

A tall, trim man who was a high school athlete, Dole was severely wounded in World War II. His right shoulder was shattered and his neck broken, and he lost a kidney and the use of his right hand.

Friends say the mental and emotional strain caused by the wounds and by spending 39 months in a hospital left their mark, making him disciplined, competitive and a strong advocate of the rights of the handicapped.

During the 1976 campaign, in which he was the GOP vice-presidential nominee, Dole told United Press International, "When I was 18, 19, 20, my primary interest was how fast I could run and how well I could do out on the basketball floor, whether I could catch a football. That seemed to be the greatest goal in life.

"Then suddenly I became a member of another class, when someone fed me and someone dressed me and someone turned me around . . . . I learned to understand that I was pretty fortunate . . . that it's ability that counts, not disability."

Dole briefly ran for president in 1980 and is a possible 1988 presidential candidate.

Philosophically, Dole fits the old-fashioned definition of an economic conservative, abhorring deficits and trusting the free market.

He has been less at home with the New Right's conservative agenda and supply-side economic theories espoused by the Reagan administration. But he has been a team player during the last four years.

As Finance Committee chairman, Dole was instrumental in shepherding President Reagan's 1981 tax cuts through Congress. But the next year he pushed through a tax increase in an effort to lower the deficit.

He has supported social-welfare, civil-rights and environmental programs. He helped expand the food stamp program, which is as popular among Kansas wheat growers as it is among the poor.

While in law school, Dole successfully ran for the Kansas legislature. He was first elected to the U.S. House in 1960 and to the Senate in 1968.

It was during the 1976 race that the label "hatchetman" was spread from coast to coast.

Today the hatchetman image has faded. According to friends, Dole mellowed after marrying Elizabeth Hanford Dole, now secretary of transportation.

At his wife's Senate confirmation hearing, Sen. Dole told the Senate Commerce Committee, "I've known the nominee for about 10 years, and I regret that I have but one wife to give to my country's infrastructure."