Elizabeth Hanford Dole will announce her resignation as secretary of labor at the White House today to become president of the American Red Cross, administration sources said yesterday.

There was no immediate indication who would be named to succeed Dole, the only woman in the Cabinet and the first Cabinet officer to leave the Bush administration.

The Labor Department would not comment yesterday on the resignation reports and Dole was unavailable for comment.

Administration sources said Dole first discussed resigning with President Bush during an Oct. 10 campaign trip to North Carolina for Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.). Details of the plans were not completed until Monday, sources said.

The decision comes amid increasing speculation that Dole, 54, was preparing to quit the Cabinet to seek the Republican nomination as governor of North Carolina in 1992. "That is not completely off the mark; it's just not the next step," an administration source said.

Other sources speculated that Dole, a North Carolina native, might run for the Senate in 1992. She has told friends she will not challenge Sen. Terry Sanford (D-N.C.), an early political mentor, who is up for reelection that year.

Sources said the $185,000-a-year Red Cross job will allow Dole to step out on her own for the first time after a quarter of a century of appointed government positions dating back to the Johnson administration, in which she worked as a White House consumer aide. "I think she wants to do something on her own," one source said. "If she wants to run for politics she has to be on her own."

Labor Department sources described Dole as being "thrilled" about her new job. As president of the Red Cross, she will be in charge of an organization with a staff of 23,000, a billion-dollar budget and more than a million volunteers across the country.

For Dole, a Harvard-trained lawyer with a master's degree in education, the labor post was the second she has held in the Cabinet of a Republican administration. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan appointed Dole secretary of transportation, a post she held until late 1987 when she resigned to take part in the abortive presidential campaign of her husband, Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.).

During her 22 months as secretary of labor, Dole received nearly unanimous low grades for her impact on policy. Union leaders complained that Dole had never been able to fight her way to the main policy table at the White House.

But she received high marks from labor for her warmth and accessibility. "I think she did an excellent job," AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland said yesterday. "Our relationship with her was very good." Kirkland said Dole was "open and accessible" to labor and said he believed she had done the best she could to represent labor in a Republican administration.

Dole called Kirkland late yesterday to tell him of her resignation.

However, on key legislative issues such as increasing the federal minimum wage, parental leave and child care, Dole found herself opposing the goals of organized labor, a role that won her the reputation among a number of top union leaders as little more than a messenger for the White House.

Administration sources yesterday defended Dole's record at the Labor Department. "Elizabeth Dole has done a tremendous job of keeping organized labor at bay for the Bush administration. In a Republican administration the business community is the core constituency," an administration source said.

"Labor's living in a dream world if they think they're going to get a labor secretary who will take their policy and turn it into {government} labor policy," the source added.

Labor Department officials said Dole's accomplishments included her efforts to step up enforcement of federal safety laws and increase pension law enforcement and her attempts to focus the government on the skills crisis in the nation's work force.