PyCon is organized and run by volunteers. How?
The PyCon organizers are a self-selecting group. You can't make people volunteer, or make them do things they don't want to do once they have volunteered. All you can do is ask for help, and encourage people to take full ownership of their area. As the "leader" of the PyCon organizers, I was less a manager and more a cheerleader and a watcher of the "big picture". The people who helped to organize and run PyCon were doing what they chose to do, what they wanted to do. That alone provides plenty of motivation.
Boiled down to the essence, the PyCon organizers all wanted a great conference, and they did whatever needed to be done to achieve that.
However, we all have day jobs and lives, and some things fell through the cracks. PyCon 2008 was very ambitious, and many people put in enormous efforts. We didn't really have backups or deputies for most areas, but that's something we should consider for the future. Usually people supported each other and stepped in when necessary. If nobody did step in it was my job as chairman to recognize such tasks and situations, and find someone to delegate to whenever possible. As a last resort, I dealt with issues myself, but I was already maxed out and taking on extra duties mean they sometimes didn't get done. In a couple of (mostly minor) cases, that's what happened.
As much as possible I tried not to make unilateral decisions. We always discussed issues on the mailing list and in our meetings. The only times I had to exercise authority was when we couldn't come to a clear consensus (which was rare), and when the matter was urgent and there was no time for discussion. If we had planned better, the latter case wouldn't have occurred nearly as often as it did. But I think that overall, as volunteers, we did a very good job.
The PyCon organizers communicate electronically, by email, wikis, IM, and IRC. We're now discussing ideas for next year's conference. To join us, please subscribe to the pycon-organizers mailing list (all are welcome!), and attend our regular meetings on IRC when you can.