Usually one proves the existence of good covers in compact manifolds by Riemannian methods: we pick an arbitrary Riemannian metric, prove that geodesically convex neighborhoods exist, that they are closed under finite intersections, and diffeomorphic to balls; this is, for example, the argument that Bott and Tu sketch in their book.

Is there a non-Riemannian approach to this?

While this is not necessary for most things, it is a nice fact that good covers can be found which realize the covering dimension bound.

Is there a differential-topological way to find them?

finitegood cover (in Bott&Tu's terminolgy). $\endgroup$ – wildildildlife Jul 13 '12 at 19:56