Energizing a huge bureaucracy can be a tough job.

James J. Kirk, director of the port department of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, says motivating people is one of the most important parts of his job.People are happiest when they're making their greatest contribution, said Mr. Kirk. Motivation is important because it stretches talent.

Mr. Kirk's style is to keep his people informed, to give them as broad an opportunity as possible and to challenge employees to reach beyond their known scope.

Not only does this approach keep workers on their toes, but his follow-up file - famous among his staff - jogs the memories of workers to produce reports and memos on the required date.

Mr. Kirk oversees 350 people in the port department. It's the largest unit of the port authority, the agency that oversees the New York area's three major airports, its marine terminals, six bridges and tunnels, two bus terminals, the World Trade Center and a commuter railroad.

A student of such management gurus as Peter Drucker, Douglas McGregor and Luther Gulick, Mr. Kirk has taught college-level management classes in his home state of New Jersey. Instead of looking at a program's success or failure, he examines how the program got to its conclusion and seeks to determine how that process can be improved.

An engineer's approach? Sure. That's how he started his career at the port authority. By the early 1960s, six years after he was hired as an electrical engineer, Mr. Kirk moved into the ranks of management.

I'm well known for my managing in the organization and for my concern for people and their growth, said the 61-year-old Mr. Kirk, who's logged 35 years with the authority. It's not so altruistic. By having my staff perform at its highest level and even higher than either of us could have imagined, I get the most effective job done.

Type-casting individuals is a practice the port manager frowns upon. That's why he prefers not to place employees in a particular niche and keep them there. He believes talents are enhanced when workers get broad experience. He admits it takes a little pain to push employees in new directions, but says the pay-back comes further down the line.

Mr. Kirk now has employees in four separate management training programs tailored to his own specifications:

* Manager On The Move was designed to allow the port promotion manager to work in various divisions within the department so that he can become better acquainted with each and develop information to market the port.

* Mobility Assignments offer staff members a chance to broaden their knowledge of port and/or other industry operations by working for varying periods of time either inside the authority or in the private sector.

* Management Associates are placed in a two-year program where 10 participants - culled from a group of 180 candidates - are circulated through four different port department positions so they can learn the business and possibly grow into future management jobs. This is an authority-wide program, but is widely used within the port department.

* The Assistant Manager in Training Program provides the framework for upper-level staff to perform the work of an assistant manager, rather than shadow a manager in the capacity of a trainee. Two people are currently involved in this program.

Mr. Kirk is not the only port director to use management training programs for his staff. At the port of New Orleans, for example, Port Director J. Ron Brinson offers an annual management seminar.

The New York port director holds four informal round-table meetings a year. Mr. Kirk also gives a state of the port address twice a year. He believes employees work better when they know what's going on and have a say in formulating policy.

Shifting people from one job to another has its problems - such as not having the top person in his regular position. But Mr. Kirk believes the long- term benefits of producing a more rounded manager are worth the time and trouble.

This year the port department has budgeted $200,000 for management training, all of which is conducted internally.

More management training programs are being offered in-house these days

because of the savings they represent, said Vern R. Lautner, division manager of information systems and technology for the American Management Association. The association has 70,000 member companies nationwide and offers them a three-day seminar for $750 each. Non-members pay $900. Held in-house, the same seminar might cost $250 an employee, he said.

Stephen Berger, executive director of the port authority, says Mr. Kirk is wise to develop management courses for the younger people in his department.

It's especially important for employees of large bureaucracies to feel they are part of the organization because when you're trying to move them into new directions, you cannot do it by fiat. There is a limit to what you can do by ordering people, Mr. Berger said.