Tips and tricks for tackling your responsibilities as a manager of people, projects and vendors.As if keeping the network and systems humming along isn't enough to handle, IT leaders also must manage staff, negotiate with vendors, oversee projects and deal with whatever else is thrown at them.Here are some tips from IT executives and management experts for keeping employees skilled and satisfied, striking deals with vendors and service providers, and guiding rollouts big and small.Staff managementToday's IT leaders are charged with managing a virtual network of resources, says Mike Czinege, CIO of Applebee's International of Overland Park, Kan. For example, Czinege's virtual workforce includes about 90 internal part-time and full-time IT employees, independent contractors, offshore technologists and software vendor consultants.He says that today's IT executives aren't evaluated solely on whether they get their projects done. "They're evaluated on how well they understand the skill sets, what skill sets they have, and how to look outside and find the skill sets they need, anywhere, at any time, and at the right cost."Czinege stresses that IT leaders must be clear about their strategic sourcing objectives and continually develop employees, putting an equal amount of responsibility for career development on workers. "Allow them to work with you to develop a plan to enhance their career opportunities internally, and the reality is externally, too," he recommends.As for your own skills, continue to hone your business savvy. "Don't underestimate the power and influence of the change in requirements for deeper business insight and understanding," says Diane Morello, a vice president for Gartner. "CIOs and their IT managers need to understand that this change is real, it's coming, and if managers themselves don't believe it's happening they put their organization and themselves at risk."Vendor negotiationWhen it's time to sign on the dotted line, make sure the contract gives your business flexibility. This is especially true of voice and data deals in a time of carrier consolidation and emerging services."We have seen so many instances where customers have been relegated to making network decisions based on their contract terms and conditions as opposed to supporting business objectives," says Dave Muller, COO of Telwares, a Vercuity company specializing in telecom procurement and contract negotiations in Destin, Fla.Telwares recommends setting your overall contract commitment at 65% or less of your expected telecom expenses. If you intend to purchase $5 million in services from a carrier over the next three years, for instance, negotiate an overall commitment of $3.25 million or less."The carrier will be continuously in a position of potentially losing 35% of its customer revenue base. I can think of no better way to ensure your carrier maintains its value as a vendor to your company," Muller explains. Along with leverage, you'll gain flexibility to switch traffic to another carrier if necessary.Jim Medeiros, vice president of IS for United Parcel Service (UPS) in Atlanta, adds, "You need to be vigilant about separating what your organization needs from what the vendor wishes to sell to you.''For example, when UPS recently completed a major software contract, the vendor wanted to throw in products that had questionable cost benefit. Senior management from both companies had to get involved to differentiate the products UPS could justify, negotiate a unique contract that the vendor's local sales team wasn't empowered to offer and agree to a timeline for the deal.Project managementIf you don't have a big backer for an IT project, don't bother, according to Gopal Kapur, president of the Center for Project Management in San Ramon, Calif. The sponsor should be at the executive level and have the requisite authority and resources. "Without the guidance, leadership, commitment and authority of a skilled sponsor, project success will continue to be a shot in the dark. The chances of project success are close to nil," he says.Kapur cites Cedars-Sinai Medical Center's infamous $34 million computerized physician order-entry system, which was scuttled just three months after rollout. The reason was a lack of high-level medical professional sponsorship.Once you have senior management's blessing, strike while the iron is hot, advises Kevin Lopez, the national telecom manager who spearheaded accounting firm Grant Thornton's VoIP rollout of Avaya S8700 PBXs last year."Always stay nimble and ready to move, gather all the information required, communicate and just do it," Lopez recommends. These practices helped him handle the rollout of Modular Messaging to 4,000 people in one weekend without any major problems. He and three colleagues fielded all the help desk calls the following Monday and handled any other issues that arose.