Let there be no mistake: Konstantin Chernenko is not a man for dramatic change. Presiding Tuesday over a plenum of the Soviet Union's Communist Party for the first time as general secretary, Mr. Chernenko hewed to familiar, subdued, and decidedly orthodox approaches for solving this country's problems.
He called for few new initiatives and did little of the verbal whip-cracking favored by his predecessor, Yuri Andropov. In fact, Mr. Chernenko described the ''main task'' facing the party - and, it seems, the country - as merely bolstering the present governmental system, not altering it.
His remedy: Make the nation's nominal parliaments, called ''soviets,'' more efficient. There are soviets at virtually every level of the government, from the local level up to the Supreme Soviet, which theoretically represents the 15 Soviet republics.
Many Western analysts don't see it that way. One American reference work says , for example, that the Supreme Soviet ''meets twice each year for a few days to rubber-stamp important legislation and to provide an audience for speeches by political leaders.''
In fact, the Supreme Soviet has never given anything but unanimous approval to decisions foreordained by the Communist Party, which traditionally holds its plenums the day before the Supreme Soviet convenes.
Chernenko, in stressing the soviets, seemed to place himself squarely in the ranks of believers in the status quo - and, by implication, outside the ranks of the nascent reformers. Only passing reference was made to Andropov's economic reforms.
''We are looking for new forms and structures of economic activity,'' Chernenko said. But he added, ''The necessary quests for the new must not be allowed, of course, to distract us from a more effective use of the existing institutions of management. In the first place, Soviet organs. There is no need to create new capacities.'' Chernenko also:
* Called for ''reduction of the administrative apparatus'' of the country - in other words, cutting down on the number of bureaucrats.
* Insisted on closer adherence to the state's five-year economic plans.
* Endorsed an educational reform package, which stresses work experience as a part of schooling.
* Stressed the need for inculcating communist ideology in virtually every phase of society, and especially among young people.
Such steps, Chernenko said, would ensure ''gradual progress to communism.'' But he did not venture predictions as to when this transformation might happen.